Nonprofit Organizations and the Law: Doctrinal, Clinical and Experiential Offerings at North Carolina Central University School of Law
Article Date: Tuesday, April 24, 2012
Written By: Angela Gilmore
North Carolina Central University School of Law provides its students with varied opportunities, both inside and outside of the classroom, to learn about nonprofit organizations. Additionally, NCCU offers its students opportunities to gain experience working with nonprofit organizations. The law school’s offerings include doctrinal courses, clinical experiences, and external placements.
In The Classroom
North Carolina Central University School of Law currently offers two courses that focus on nonprofit organizations – Legal Letters: Charitable Organizations and Nonprofit Organizations. These courses, while similar in substance, approach the material from different angles. As a result, students have the opportunity to learn about nonprofit organizations from both practical and theoretical perspectives.
Legal Letters: Charitable Organizations is part of the law school’s innovative legal research and writing curriculum. The course is best described as a simulation-based course because, as explained in Best Practices for Legal Education, by Roy Stuckey and others, it requires students to take on the roles of lawyers and engage “in hypothetical situations under supervision and with opportunities for feedback and reflection.” Legal Letters: Charitable Organizations gives students opportunities to practice their research, analytical, communication, and drafting skills while advising hypothetical clients. Substantively, the course focuses on those nonprofit organizations that are also charitable organizations and covers issues such as formation, dissolution, and tax exemption.
Nonprofit Organizations is a doctrinal course. Relying primarily on cases, statutes, and constitutional provisions, the course focuses on the substantive law of nonprofit organizations and supporting jurisprudential theories. It explores issues of state law such as organizational structures for nonprofit entities and governance of nonprofit organizations. Additionally, the course covers federal tax laws related to obtaining and maintaining tax-exempt status. The course also familiarizes students with the involvement of nonprofit organizations in political advocacy and political activity, and with the laws generally relating to churches, private schools, hospitals, social clubs, and professional organizations.
In The Clinic
Professor Felicia L. Branch is the director of NCCU Law’s Small Business and Community Development Clinic (SBCDC). The SBCDC, which was established in 2001, is one of NCCU Law’s nationally recognized clinical programs. Under the direction of Professor Branch, students work with small businesses, both for-profit and nonprofit, in the Triangle area and throughout the state of North Carolina. Through the SBCDC, clinical students are able to provide advice to nonprofit clients about issues such as choice of entity, formation, governance, employment law, and taxation.
The SBCDC provides students with an opportunity to experience how legal doctrines learned in the classroom operate in a transactional environment. It also gives them opportunities to practice and develop their interviewing, communication, analytical, legal research, and writing skills under the supervision of NCCU Law faculty. Because of its blend of doctrinal instructions with practical experience, the SBCDC is a popular choice for students seeking a clinical placement. It offers an invaluable educational experience for students because, as stated in Best Practices for Legal Education, it integrates “academic inquiry with actual experience.”
In The Community
The Pro Bono Program is NCCU Law’s pioneering public interest law program. Working with Professor Page Potter, the director of the program, students can gain experience with nonprofit organizations by participating in a Public Interest Externship or by earning the Pro Bono Certificate.
The Public Interest Externship is a field-placement course that offers students an introduction to the world of public interest lawyering. Students who complete a 45-hour placement with a public interest law organization or pro bono project earn one academic credit. To qualify for credit, the work performed by the students must be law-related, uncompensated, and benefit the under-served, under-represented, or organizations with limited resources. Recent placements for externship students include the Child Advocacy Commission of Durham, the Land Loss Prevention Project, and the North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence.
The Pro Bono Certificate recognizes students who have completed 75 or more hours of pro bono service while in law school. Just as with the Public Interest Externship, work done for the Pro Bono Certificate must be law-related, uncompensated, and benefit the under-served, the under-represented, or organizations with limited resources. Additionally, work done for academic credit will not count toward the certificate. Students typically earn the certificate by working with non-profit civic, charitable, religious, or community organizations.
In addition to giving students the opportunity to develop their practical legal skills, the placements offered through the Pro Bono Program allow students to gain an understanding of the roles and responsibilities of public interest lawyers and how a nonprofit, public interest law organization operates. Furthermore, the students gain an appreciation for the unmet needs of low and moderate income persons for legal representation and the professional responsibility of lawyers to help meet those needs.
NCCU Law’s nonprofit related offerings demonstrate its commitment to producing lawyers who are not only competent and socially responsible members of the legal profession, but who are also committed to public service. Through doctrinal, clinical, and experiential classes and programs, the law school is preparing its graduates to meet the challenges of representing and working with nonprofit organizations. •
Gilmore is Professor of Law at North Carolina Central University School of Law. She teaches, among other courses, Nonprofit Organizations and Legal Letters: Charitable Organizations.
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