Solution Center Grant Helps Law Students Help Nonprofits
During the Spring 2009 semester , a special grant from IUPUI's Solution Center helped to make it possible for six IU Law -Indianapolis students to work in close collaboration with the Community Development Law Center (CDLC). The six students were Megan Alvarez (3L), Dana Arent (2L), Marina Grgic (2L), Kelly Huang (2L), John Lim (2L) and Amanda Whipple (3L). These students were selected by Professor Mary Wolf, Director of Clinical Programs and Externships, who oversaw the academic aspect of the program, and Sheila Jenkins, '98, Executive Director of CDLC. Students received academic credit for completing 120 hours of service, and the students were overseen by CDLC attorneys, all of whom are alumni of the law school and participated in clinical programs as students.
Jenkins joined the CDLC the year she graduated from law school and has been its Executive Director since 2003. Michael R. Smith, ’93, an adjunct professor at the law school and a retired attorney for Eli Lilly and Company, met regularly with the students and supervised their work, as did Kim Huizinga, ‘98 who worked as a Marion County Deputy Prosecutor and in private practice before joining the CDLC.
At a recent gathering at the end of the semester to discuss the outcomes of the semester-long project, the students were enthusiastic about how much they had learned and how much they would recommend this experiential learning situation to other students.
The CDLC (formerly known as the Community Organizations Legal Assistance Project, Inc. or COLAP) was established to provide high quality pro bono legal and related services to new and existing Indiana nonprofit community organizations that serve low-income clients and neighborhoods.
Smith says the current economic climate is causing a lot of pain in the nonprofit sector. “A lot of organizations are really stressed,” he says. As a result, there is more need for the kind of services the CDLC provides than ever before. He says that the CDLC staff very much wanted the students working with them to learn how to do real legal work and deal with as many practical aspects of law practice as possible. The students assisted the practicing attorneys with all aspects of helping nonprofits from a legal perspective, including assisting with nonprofit start ups. Students helped with such issues as drafting articles of incorporation, creating bylaws, and filing IRS forms, such as form 1023 to obtain tax exempt 501(c)(3) status, an essential step in helping groups secure funds from donors.
Kelly Huang and Dana Arent helped several organizations complete their IRS form 1023 paperwork, a process Huang characterizes as “long and complex.” She says that professional help with the applications can often improve the likelihood that the IRS will grant tax-exempt status. Huang worked with an urban public school that was hoping to become a unique type of charter school, specializing in training students for the airport, aviation and aerospace industries. Huizinga, who worked with Huang on the project, says it was important to take the students to the client’s location so they could really get a feel for the organization they were helping, so she and Huang visited the school on several occasions.
John Lim and Marina Grgic helped to develop training programs that were presented to a meeting of the Nonprofit Solutions Initiative of the IUPUI Solutions Center. Lim assisted Smith in creating a presentation on strategic alliances among nonprofit organizations, while Grgic worked with Indianapolis CPA Paul Bogdanoff, of Bogdanoff Henderson, PC, on a presentation covering the recently revised IRS reporting obligations of tax-exempt organizations. The presentations are available to other groups through the CDLC.
Amanda Whipple, who obtained her M.B.A. from Ball State before attending law school, put her experience in the financial arena to work helping financially distressed companies deal with issues such as bankruptcy, insolvency, and even the dissolution of an organization and the disposal of remaining assets. Participating in the program “was definitely worth doing,” she says. Amanda says that in light of her work through the CDLC, she is seriously considering combining her legal expertise with her previous financial experience to pursue a career in the field of mortgage foreclosure prevention or forensic accounting.
Megan Alvarez’s ability to speak Spanish allowed her to help a Hispanic church group to translate their bylaws and make an application for 501(c)(4) status, which allows them to maintain their tax-exempt status while doing more governmental lobbying than is allowed under the traditional 501(c)(3) status.
The students echoed the sentiment expressed by Smith regarding the benefit to students of getting outside the law school walls and into real life legal work situations. A couple of students are still involved in finishing a few cases, even though the semester has ended. John Lim says he enjoyed his internship so much that he plans to volunteer for a week this summer just to help out. The CDLC attorneys will put him to good use in helping serve the Indiana nonprofit community.