Welcome to this year’s service-learning course at the law school. I am excited to provide this unique opportunity for you to apply your legal education through research projects carried out in connection with the active involvement of community partners. Experiential education is a superior form of learning because it is based on doing something in a real-world context. As the founding director of the Jacobsen Center for Service and Learning, I came to appreciate the value of service-learning as a pedagogical tool. I am pleased you are interested in taking advantage of this learning opportunity.

We have had other successful service-learning initiatives at the law school over the past 12 years. Most of you have participated in one or more externship experiences available over a broad range of legal positions. Our LawHelp seminars provide unique perspectives for students through hands-on assignments built around specific legal problems of the elderly, victims of domestic violence, children, and families in crisis. Mediation courses give students opportunities to learn through actual mediations. Professor David Dominguez has successfully launched laudable community lawyering projects dealing with complex social problems in our area.

This course builds on these other experiential offerings by focusing on legal research that results in a concrete product that will benefit the community. The community will be involved in shaping the desired research, in collaborating with you in producing the research, and in using the results of the research. You may end up creating court forms, an explanatory brochure, preparing a curriculum and lesson plan, writing an article, proposing legislation, working on a handbook, producing a video or power point presentation, or creating a grant proposal. The keys to a successful project are identifying a community organization and knowledgeable community members, working closely with the community in shaping and creating the research, and producing something useful to the community based on your legal research.

In past years, students have carried out a number of exemplary projects. They include:

  • Preparation of materials for students in a new externship in Uganda assisting families affected by AIDS and HIV (wills, legal planning)
  • Preparation of a brochure on Section 8 housing
  • Preparation of immigration reference tools
  • Preparation of lesson plans for K-3 grades on alternative dispute resolution
  • Re-establishment of the Tuesday Night Bar (Central Utah Bar Association)
  • Creation of new forms for the Committee on Resources for Self-Represented Parties
  • Preparation of materials for Midvale City on teenage pregnancy concerns connected to date-rape and statutory rape
  • Updated bankruptcy packet for Utah Legal Services debt counseling clinic
  • Pro Bono Alliance Proposal (Public Interest Law Forum and the Law School)
  • Preparation of power point presentations (employment law and landlord/tenant law) for Hispanic Initiative in Salt Lake City (J. Reuben Clark Society, Salt Lake City Chapter)
  • Preparation of informational brochures in Spanish on immigration, employment law, taxes, domestic violence (Centro Hispano)
  • Drafted a policy statement for Provo School District concerning enrollment at Independence High School (the district’s alternative school)
  • Preparation of articles of incorporation, bylaws and web site (Preservation of Utah Lake)
  • Improved electronic version of Utah Domestic Relations Manual (Utah Legal Services)
  • Brochure on Predatory Lending and Paycheck Loans (Home Buyer & Mortgage Counseling Services)
  • Packet on Haiti Adoptions (Children’s Hope Foundation)

What Is Community-based Research?

Community-based research involves students, faculty and community members working collaboratively on research that is useful to a nonprofit agency, government or neighborhood organization. A unique characteristic of this kind of research is that the community serves as an active contributor and agent of change by participating in the design, execution, evaluation, and dissemination of academic research.


Benefits for the student through this special way of learning. I urge you to accept this invitation to learn and grow as a person. Service-Learning is a significant development impacting higher education reform. It potentially provides transformative education based on the impact of “doing something” outside of lecture and class discussions.

This form of learning is based “on individual contributions to the common good from a student’s own perspective, view point, and background. Students are understood as whole human beings with complex lives and experiences rather than simply as seeking after compartmentalized bits of knowledge.” (From Adam Howard, Teacher Education Situated in Reflective Practice (National Society for Experiential Education Quarterly, Summer 2003, Vol. 28, No. 3).

As you engage in this course, you will face situations requiring you to figure things out, make decisions and develop new understandings. Learning from Experience can be a magical teaching and learning opportunity. You are asked to take what you have learned as you make an impact through a transformative experience. It is a way to make ideas and learning come to life.

In 1916, John Dewey asked:

“Why is it, in spite of the fact that teaching by pouring in, learning by a passive absorption, are universally condemned, that they are still so entrenched in practice? That education is not an affair of ‘telling’ and being told but an active and constructive process, is a principle almost as generally violated in practice as conceded in theory.” (Democracy and Education. New York: Free Press (1916)

This kind of class provides “opportunities to grapple with the complexities of a real-world context. You are learning by doing. This class is different. We read when we need to find something out. By working on the project, … our learning process will emphasize collaboration. You will learn through experience as well as from the insights and contributions of community partners as well as your fellow classmates.” (Based on Adam Howard, NSEE)

Benefits for the Community. Service-learning principles emphasize the reciprocal relationships experienced in this form of learning. The student/learner and those served work together in a mutually supportive teaching/learning and serving/receiving relationship. It is often called democratic education with the goal of civic engagement for the students who learn through their interaction with those being served, who in turn, serve the student by sharing their knowledge and skills as they work with the students.

“Oakes and Lipton (Teaching to Change the World. New York: McGraw-Hill College. (1999)) maintain that there are four fundamental tenets of a learning community: learning is situated in a community of inquirers who share meanings, interpretations, and ideas; learning continually relates to classroom members’ lived experiences; learning relates to the present cultural context of the larger society as well as the cultural context of our collective history; and the content students learn has value and is meaningful. Through learning communities, students and teachers reject the notion that education is a fragmentary act of receiving and giving compartmentalized bits of knowledge.”


I. The Research Plan and Product. Each student, working individually or as part of a team of 2 to 3 students, will have the opportunity to interact and engage with a real community partner, meet with real people, partner as collaborators on real problems, and experience first-hand that their “service” must be linked with what the community is both interested in and willing to support. Thus, the student’s service and learning are inextricably woven together. In implementing your project you should identify a community’s important legal needs and develop a product to address an important need (again, with community input).

You have the option of identifying your own community partner and project OR you may choose to work with one of the following community partners I have identified. If you want to identify 1 or 2 other students to work together as a team, that is encouraged. If you are planning to write a paper to serve as a substantial writing paper, you should plan to work independently on a project rather than on a team.

  1. Standing Committee on Materials for Self-Represented Parties (Administrative Office of the Courts). I serve on both the full committee and the subcommittee on forms. We welcome the involvement of students in helping produce new materials for the self-represented parties? portal on the Utah state law library web site http://www.utcourts.gov/howto/. Work involves preparation of information packets for the state law library web site and brochures for distribution.
  2. Immigration Court Improved Legal Access Initiative. This task force is setting up training for law students to assist pro bono attorneys on immigration removal cases. The team will assist in creating information materials and classes. The proposed project will help train and prepare young immigration attorneys, non-immigration lawyers and students to represent low income immigrants in removal proceedings. Barbara will also be responsible for strengthening pro bono clinics like Centro Hispano and Guadalupe in SLC while trying to create a new clinic in St. George.
  3. Centro Hispano, Community Help for Immigrants through Law and Education (CHILE). They need materials available in Spanish especially designed for Immigrants. The law school is offering a new Hispanic Streetlaw Course this semester connected to student outreach activities at Centro Hispano. Student projects in this course will be helpful to this new initiative.
  4. Provo Chapter of the J. Reuben Clark Law Society. They are launching a pro bono outreach program as part of the L.D.S. Church hispanic initiative. Work with their Pro Bono Committee on an Hispanic Initiative with local stakes and churches.
  5. Work with the Utah Commission on Volunteers in preparing a report/presentation on liability protection for volunteers that would be shared with local and state government leaders:
    a) Research and report on volunteer liability issues, including but not limited to state statutes and ordinances protecting the organizations and municipalities that utilize volunteers, personal injury and property damage to and by volunteers, the Good Samaritan Act, and the Medical Reserve Corps Act, all specific to Utah law.
    b) Attend a strategic planning meeting of the Utah Citizen Corps Council in January of 2008 and assist in the development of a business plan for the year 2008, including the preparation of a presentation on volunteer liability issues for training purposes.
    Research could include state and national sources and models; for example, Florida and California, which both experienced extensive natural disasters frequently, have Disaster Service Workers programs and legislation. Utah ranks #1 in the nation for volunteering at an impressive rate of 43% compared to the national average of 27%, but many questions linger in the minds of prospective volunteers and the organizations that would like to engage volunteers in their programs.
  6. The Rocky Mountain Innocence Center (RMIC) works to correct and prevent the conviction of innocent people in Utah, Nevada, and Wyoming. With the help of law students participating in the Innocence Clinic at S.J. Quinney College of Law and volunteer attorneys, RMIC investigates and litigates provable claims of actual innocence by prisoners. RMIC also conducts outreach and education about the causes and consequences of wrongful convictions and policy reforms that can prevent the conviction of innocent people. Outside of the Innocence Clinic, RMIC has unique volunteer opportunities for law students in three basic categories:
    (1) Policy Reform (legislative research and writing, including drafting legislation, and legislative advocacy);(2) Outreach and Education (preparation of educational and training events and materials, including materials for law enforcement officials, judges, defense attorneys, policymakers, and the public);
    (3) Non-Profit Development (website development, preparation of written and audio-visual public relations materials, and fundraising).
  7. Midvale City, Community Building Community (Families Agencies Communities Together). This neighborhood organization works to find solutions to community problems. Last year, the committee working on immigrant concerns used law student assistance regarding Violence Against Women. Their committee combating teen pregnancy received materials regarding date rape and statutory rape.
  8. Project with Professor Jini Roby at the School of Social Work and graduate from our Law School. She is looking for someone to help her with an article she is writing about internet-assisted adoptions and the legal concepts and laws that can be applied to regulate them. The student will assist her on a paper entitled “The Benefits and Pitfalls of Internet-assisted Adoption Services: A Call for Regulation.” She has done most of the literature review, but would like a law student to research the various federal criminal laws that could be applied (e.g. wire fraud) to regulate this increasing practice.
  9. Habitat for Humanity of Utah County builds and renovates simple, decent homes with families in need of safe and affordable housing in our community. They recently opened a ReStore Home Improvement business to help them fund their building mission and have gone from building one to two homes a year to four to five homes a year. With increase in capacity and the addition of the store, they are in need of some additional written legal/financial policies to help them become more business-like and to better protect the organization’s interests. The legal and financial policies that are needed include record retention for financial records, saved computer files, and email. They also need to strengthen fiscal controls for the affiliate, and create controls and money handling policies for the ReStore.
  10. Work with any local organization you have a specific interest in because of your own personal or family interests, connections or experiences with community programs.Each student (or team of students) will: determine the research project; develop the research design; gather information; and produce the chosen research product. You need to turn in your topic and initial plan to Professor Backman by Friday, January 18th. I will schedule a time to meet with each of you individually or as a team of students during these first two weeks of the semester. Be sure to sign up for an appointment.The initial plan should include appropriate contact information describing the community partner(s) participating with you in your research. Each student should plan on spending at least 40 hours working on the project over the full semester (meetings with team members, work with community partners, completing team assignments, etc.). That means about 3 hours per week in addition to classroom sessions. After the first few weeks of class, I will schedule meetings with each of you individually or as a team in place of the regular class sessions. We will resume regular class sessions at the end of the semester for student presentations to demonstrate class projects.

II. Reflective Journals. You are to prepare and send to me four reflective journals during the semester by email. (To be turned in on Mondays, January 28, February 11, March 3 and March 31.) Reflection is viewed as a critical part of service/learning education. Goals of Reflection in service-learning include:

  1. Deepen understanding; connect service experiences with academic learning. If you understand something, you can teach it, use it, prove it, explain it, defend it;
  2. Stimulate problem solving through critical thinking;
  3. Challenge assumptions;
  4. Provide transforming perspectives.

Each student will maintain a reflection journal consisting of three parts:

  1. Part one is a report on your project and the progress you have made on your project: Include a summary of activities, observations, readings and conversations. You should prepare a progress report on the way the plan is working out and any revisions you have made on the initial plan in collaboration with the community partner(s).
  2. Part two is a log reporting the number of hours you have spent on the project out of class since the last reflective journal and a cumulative total of your hours to that point in the semester.
  3. In part three, please respond to the following assigned topics:(1st Reflection Journal due January 28) “What I expect by enrolling in Community-based Legal Research” (Motivations) In choosing a community problem and a community partner for my project, these are my initial ideas. Why?(2nd Reflection Journal due February 11) “How I have learned about the chosen project and the community partner(s) involved” (Community partner) What resources already exist to help me in carrying out my project? (Mentors, resources, assets)

    For the remainder of the semester, you will be asked to report on your project?s progress in your reflective journal, indicating what you personally contributed to the project since your last entry. You are also asked to briefly explain the involvement of other students and community partners who are collaborating with you.

    (3rd Reflection Journal due March 3) – How has your experience in working with the community on your project affected you, your views, your perspectives, and your future? (Personal Impact)

    (4th Reflection Journal due March 31) – Describe the good, the bad and the ugly you have experienced in community-based legal research. How could the course be better the next time it is offered? (Course recommendations)

III. Class Presentation. Each student (or student team) will make a presentation during the final month of the course by sharing the final research product.

January 7 – Introduction to course

January 14 – Class Session on Collaboration

January 21 — NO CLASS, Martin Luther King holiday
Written Initial Research Plan and Description is due by January 18.

January 28 – (1st reflection journal is due, What I expect by enrolling in Community-based Legal Research? (Motivations) In choosing a community problem and a community partner for my project, these are my initial ideas. Why?)
Class Session focusing on community-based research principles.

February 4 – Individual, Small Group Consultations.

February 11 – (2nd reflection journal is due, “How I have learned about the chosen project and the community partner(s) involved” (Community partner) What resources already exist to help me in carrying out my project? (Mentors, resources, assets))
Class Session reporting on your community service organization participation and what you learned from your consultations with them

February 18 – NO CLASS, Placement Break

March 3 – (3rd reflection journal is due, How has your experience in working with the community on your project affected you, your views, your perspectives, and your future? (Personal Impact)
Class Session on Monthly Reflection about student research plans and progress reports.

March 10 – Individual, Small Group Consultations

March 17 – Student presentations. Class Session.

March 24 – Student presentations. Class Session.

March 31 – (4th reflection journal is due, Describe the good, the bad and the ugly you have experienced in community-based legal research. How could the course be better the next time it is offered? (Course recommendations))
Student presentations. Class Session.

April 7 – Celebration and evaluation. Class Session.

Web sites to consider:

www.compact.org (Campus Compact)
www.servicelearning.org (National Service-Learning Clearinghouse)
www.coralnetwork.org (Georgetown?s Community Research and Learning Network)