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Concordia Law: Putting legal expertise in reach for people in need

There’s a place in the heart of downtown Boise where underserved populations can get critical, pro bono legal help. Where low-income families can get legal advice on landlord disputes and immigration issues. Where veterans can get free legal support for themselves and their families. And where law students and legal experts work side-by-side to serve the highest-need individuals in our community.

Welcome to 5th & Front

The newly developed 5th & Front is the home of Concordia University School of Law’s extensive portfolio of community-based and community-focused services and programs. Located on the Concordia Law campus in Boise, 5th & Front aims to provide access to justice for underserved populations – including juveniles, veterans, immigrants, refugees, and families living in poverty. Clinics cover a wide range of legal issues, such as housing, asylum and citizenship, criminal expungement, wills and estate planning, and domestic violence, to name a few.

Where law and social justice meet

Since it opened in 2012, Concordia University School of Law has been committed to serving the people of Boise. In fact, servant leadership is one of the school’s founding principles as a Christian institution. Even though the requirement is for each student to complete 50 hours of law-related public service prior to graduation, the vast majority of students go well past that minimum number of hours. Why? Because it’s part of the Concordia culture and part of the Concordia mission in action.

That’s the impetus behind 5th & Front – a “one-stop shop” for all of Concordia Law’s many legal outreach programs. According to Dean Elena Langan, “This unique center helps close the social justice gap, bridging the disparity in legal services for people in need. These are services that either don’t exist or are out of reach for many in our community. Our goal is to change that.” Langan and her team have been working on the center for more than a year. “Where law and social justice meet is more than a tagline,” she says, “it’s the ideal way to express what 5th & Front is all about.”

For Concordia Law graduate Ashley Marelius, the ability to work on real cases with real clients as a law student was invaluable. “At the Street Law Clinic, the Idaho Trial Lawyers Association found a space in the Boise library and opened the doors to community members who needed legal assistance but couldn’t afford it.” The work Marelius did in the clinic impressed a local attorney so much that he hired her, and she’s now an associate attorney in his law firm.

“Through 5th & Front, Concordia Law students have the opportunity to seek out pro bono experiences in many different practice areas. These first-hand, real-world experiences not only build students’ skills, but also help members of our community,” says Director of Experiential Learning, Jodi Nafzger.

A win-win-win

As Langan describes it, 5th & Front enhances Concordia Law’s legal education by offering professional experiences and employment opportunities for students, who in turn provide much-needed legal services to low-income and modest-means individuals and communities. And as issues arise and laws change, 5th & Front is able to respond to evolving challenges – like tenants’ rights issues in the current tight housing market – benefiting the overall community in the process.

“Clinics, like the Concordia Housing Clinic, really prepare you for all the practical lawyering skills that you can’t just pick up in a book,” says Concordia Law graduate Heidi Burgoyne. “For me, it also gave me a chance to go to court – something I never saw myself doing.”

Big plans for more community-focused services

Not only is 5th & Front revolutionizing legal service delivery for at-risk populations in Boise, it’s also designed to advance expertise among the Boise legal community as a training center on pro bono best practices. This external education will help equip attorneys who want to give back with the tools they need to be able to put their expertise – and heart – to good use. Plans call for a rural justice initiative to help people in need in outlying areas where pro bono services are scarce. And fundraising is underway to create the 5th & Front Fellows, a scholarship opportunity for future law students who choose a service-oriented career path. Cross-end-article-symbol

The goal of 5th & Front is simple: To mindfully and intentionally train a new generation of civic-minded attorneys by incorporating servant leadership into the law school’s curriculum, programming, and community work. According to the Director of Clinical Education, Latonia Haney Keith, “5th & Front combines education, community work, and practical experience to further its mission of advancing the legal training of our students, instilling cultural competency, providing mentorship and career opportunities, and fostering a commitment to servant leadership beyond its walls.”

According to a 2017 study commissioned by The Florida Bar Foundation, legal aid for civil matters yields a seven-fold return on investment. So for every $1 spent toward pro bono legal services, the party requiring legal help gains $7 in benefits by obtaining compensation they’re entitled to – for things like unemployment, child support, and wages. That income, in turn, is spent in the community.

Learn more about some of the services provided through 5th & Front at Concordia University School of Law:

© 2017 Concordia University Portland, Oregon