Student Initiatives part of the Law School's Canon
Law students are finding ways to enhance their education through student-run organizations and initiatives.

By La Monica Everett-Haynes, University Communications
Oct. 4, 2007

Law students got exclusive front-and-center face time with Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard this week.

“Tea with the A.G.” was not part of a class or a program the James E. Rogers College of Law planned, but one the American Constitution Society’s student chapter coordinated.

“We were very honored to have the chief law enforcement officer speak with us at such a forum,” said Spencer Scharff, first-year law student and the society's president.

Society members, like University of Arizona law students in several other organizations, said their organizations enable them to initiate and enhance their own learning.

Others said the organizations also help them to improve knowledge about larger, more complex issues – especially in clinical and informal settings – while allowing students to figure out ways to address societal issues.

The state’s chief prosecutor and investigator spoke to nearly 50 law students and faculty on topics including predatory lending, subprime mortgages, drug violation enforcement, voter-approved initiatives and what it is like to serve in his position in a border state.

“It was wonderful to hear him speak about specific cases he confronts in his role as the attorney general, both in a constitutional and in an everyday mindset,” Scharff said.

“There is a need for such an organization to foster an academic space by hosting create forums on progressive legal issues,” he added. “The key is to provide channels for a different level of analysis.”

Projects abound

Other examples of student-led initiatives and projects exist in a number of law student organizations.

Four clubs are working together to participate in this month’s AIDSWALK events.

And the Student Bar Association is, for the first time, initiating an animal food and supply drive for no-kill animal shelters next month.

“People are pretty aware of the treatment of animals and one of our faculty members is teaching a course next year on the treatment of animals,” says Phillip Blower, the association’s president and a third-year law student. “We thought it would be good to raise awareness on the issue.”

Also, the American Constitution Society chapter and Federalist Society are participating together in a program next month that, among other things, will address issues related to First Amendment rights and the "Pentagon Papers," a once top secret study about United States military involvement during the Vietnam War.

The Pride Law Alliance, like several other student organizations, runs a referral clinic. Members, who identify as both gay and straight, provide information to individuals who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.

People seek help for many types of situations, including custody issues, discrimination and crime, says Jill Holt, a third-year law student and president of the alliance.

Not only are the students able to connect clients with the resources they need, but the clinic also helps students understand issues beyond themselves and, in many cases, beyond Tucson.

“The clinical experience itself is good and practical,” Holt says.

“So the work isn’t just a hypothetical situation. You can put a face on a problem and care more," she added. "It’s important to be involved in progressive organization so that your focus is on the people you’re helping and not the almighty dollar.”

In the past, the organization has also held events to discuss issue related to hate crimes and same-sex marriage.

The work of the students allows them to be "public defenders," Holt added. "That’s important because that’s what our profession is supposed to be about.”

Space for new ideas

“Part of our role is to make sure their voices are heard at the university and to make law students and law faculty more aware of the community,” says Eric Pavri, co-president of the National Lawyers Guild’s student chapter at the UA.

The second-year law student's organization also runs referral clinics, but for indigent and disadvantaged populations.

“Whenever people have ideas, projects or things they want to be done because they think justice isn’t being served, we want to be their home and a place to address those concerns,” he added.

Jonelle Vold, the school’s associate director for academic enrichment, said the desire for equity, civil rights and social justice is common among the student groups.

“The commonality between all of our clubs is their community service and wanting to cure some problem they see in the community or in society as a whole,” Vold says.

But these values are not found only in the student organizations, she added. “The law school is focused on building community,” Vold says. “It’s the most important thing.”