Oregon Law Offers Nation’s First Interdisciplinary Nonprofit Clinic
Oregon Law’s Nonprofit Clinic is an interdisciplinary program that offers students an opportunity to obtain experience in a burgeoning field while providing valuable assistance to Oregon nonprofits. Graduate students from Law, Conflict and Dispute Resolution, and Nonprofit Management work together in teams under the guidance of seasoned practitioners to conduct organizational assessments through surveys, document review, and facilitated dialogue. The goal of the assessment is to help the nonprofit organizations capitalize on strengths and assets, and to identify opportunities to address challenges or to integrate best practices in a particular area. The clinic offers services free of charge.
Prior to the start of the clinic term, students participate in an intensive two-day training to learn about nonprofit legal structures, financial controls, board governance, conflict management systems, organizational life cycles, the role of the consultant, and other topics.
The clinic currently enrolls 12 students, four from each department. Students are assigned to work in three-person teams with students from the other two disciplines. Each team works with three different organizations throughout the term under the supervision of a field consultant.
“The students are front and center, and that makes for a very rich learning experience,” says Clinic Director Carrie Heltzel. Students review documents, schedule and facilitate site visits, conduct interviews, draft and present reports, and develop tailored resource guides for follow-through services. It is also the students’ responsibility to establish rapport, credibility, and trust in their working relationships with client organizations. Heltzel adds, “I really value the level of depth we have been able to achieve in these organizational assessments and the shared learning that comes from that – not only within boards – but also across student teams.”
Oregon’s Law’s Nonprofit Clinic is the nation’s first interdisciplinary nonprofit clinic housed within a law school, and that interdisciplinary experience, says Oregon Law Professor Susan Gary, is what makes it such a valuable learning opportunity. “Though some students may not work directly with nonprofits in the future, the work they do in the clinic – both with the client organizations and with their peers from other disciplines – will improve their ability to engage effectively as board members or volunteers in the nonprofit sector.” Gary, who teaches “Law of Nonprofit Organizations” and whose research interests include regulation of charities, developed the clinic concept in partnership with Professor Renee Irvin, who directs the Graduate Program in Nonprofit Management in the Department of Planning, Public Policy, and Management.
Students echo Gary’s sentiments. “I really value the opportunity to learn from my colleagues in the Conflict Resolution and Planning, Public Policy and Management programs,” says third-year law student Zac Harris. “Because of our unique disciplines, we bring different lenses through which to view and resolve issues within the nonprofit organizations. This opportunity to learn new vantage points from my non-law colleagues has been invaluable to my learning and future career.”
To learn more about clinic opportunities at Oregon Law, please visit law.uoregon.edu/academics/clinics/.