April 9, 2009
Written by Donna Emert
MOSCOW, Idaho – On his first day of law school at the University of Idaho, Lewiston native Jordan Taylor showed up in the requisite shirt and tie, ready to roll up his sleeves. By spring break, he was in New Orleans, La., ankle deep in mud and elbow deep in paperwork.
In New Orleans, whole communities were housed in FEMA trailers. Taylor and others went door-to-door, talking with and providing free legal aid to victims of hurricane Katrina.
The following spring, Taylor was in Biloxi, Miss., doing it again.
In Louisiana and Mississippi, Taylor and law students like him focused on helping victims secure and maintain FEMA benefits and deal with foreclosures, landlord tenant disputes and insurance disputes. They also helped investigate claims of contractor fraud. In the summer of his second year of law school, Taylor returned to Louisiana to review capital penalty cases for inmates. He also performed pro bono work in the Civil Rights Education Program in local high schools. Additionally, Taylor and fellow law students – Morgan Reynolds (’08) and Marcia Murdock (’09) – and clinical professor Carole Wells established and then served in the college’s Tenants’ Rights Clinic.
Legal Aid Clinics and the Alternative Spring Break (ASB) program are representative of the many pro bono opportunities available in the College of Law. Students also are encouraged to design their own.
“Pro bono made me feel like a lawyer much sooner than I would have without it,” Taylor said. “It has made me a more compassionate person. Without actually going into poor areas, it’s impossible to have any kind of perspective on what it is really like.”
As a University of Idaho student, Taylor logged more than 430 hours of free legal service. And those are just the hours he actually tallied.
While pro bono service has long been an element of legal education in Idaho, in 2006 Dean Don Burnett and the law faculty officially established 40 hours of pro bono service as a requirement for an Idaho juris doctor. Students are encouraged to do more. The first law class to meet the requirement graduates this May.
Taylor’s commitment exceeds the requirement more than tenfold.
The Idaho State Bar honored Taylor and his work with the Denise O’Donnell Day Pro Bono Award. He is the first student ever to receive it.
“Everybody is always so amazed at the numbers,” he said of his service. “Honestly it was fun, and didn’t seem like that many hours or much of a burden at all.”
Professor Jack McMahon, former Chief Deputy Attorney General of the State of Idaho and a former Idaho State Bar President, directs the College of Law’s pro bono program. He has felt the reverberations of Taylor’s impact even among his professional peers.
“While attending national conferences, I kept running into lawyers from legal aid associations in Louisiana and Mississippi who would ask if I knew Jordan Taylor,” said McMahon. “It’s just incredible, and gratifying, to find that a student’s reputation is what the University of Idaho is most famous for.”
Taylor will receive a juris doctor May 16. His areas of interest include public interest law, criminal and social justice, civil rights and civil liberties. He believes students who do pro bono work as part of their education are more likely to provide free service in the future as well, and to recognize its value.
“I think pro bono should be required, instead of just recommended, by all state bar associations. It’s that important,” Taylor said. “Many lawyers don’t realize just how powerful their tools are: a simple task for them can be a life changing event for someone in need.”
Last year, the College of Law’s ASB program expanded its pro bono services to Boise and Washington, D.C.
In Boise, law students work with the Idaho State Bar's Volunteer Lawyer Program, matching attorneys with pro bono projects; with Idaho Legal Aid, providing indigent civil legal service; with the ACLU, protecting clients’ civil rights and civil liberties; with the State of Idaho Appellate Public Defender on Public Defense Appeals; with Advocates for the West on environmental law; and with the Idaho Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence. In Washington, D.C., Idaho law students also help U.S. Service Veterans navigate the complexities of obtaining their benefits.
There still is plenty of work to be done of the Gulf Coast as well, Taylor noted on the Alternative Spring Break blog: two years after Katrina, low-income housing is routinely torn down in favor of expensive, upper-income condos.
To find out more or to provide support for the Alternative Spring Break program and other pro bono opportunities, visit University of Idaho College of Law Public Interest Law Group.
Serving Idaho since 1909, the College of Law has been recognized nationally for its distinctive programs, including its clinical legal education, pro bono service, diversity initiatives, and cross-disciplinary fields of study, including environmental and natural resources law, business law and entrepreneurship, advocacy and dispute resolution, and Native American law. More information about the College of Law and its legacy.
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About the University of Idaho
Founded in 1889, the University of Idaho is the state’s flagship higher-education institution and its principal graduate education and research university, bringing insight and innovation to the state, the nation and the world. University researchers attract nearly $100 million in research grants and contracts each year; the University of Idaho is the only institution in the state to earn the prestigious Carnegie Foundation ranking for high research activity. The university’s student population includes first-generation college students and ethnically diverse scholars. Offering more than 150 degree options in 10 colleges, the university combines the strengths of a large university with the intimacy of small learning communities. For information, visit www.uidaho.edu.
Media Contact: Joni Kirk, University Communications, (208) 885-7725, firstname.lastname@example.org
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