Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Experiential Learning in Nonprofit Law

Rather than talk about news or scholarship, I want to pose a question about experiential approaches to teaching nonprofit law. What are some of the innovative teaching techniques that you have used or heard of in nonprofit law?

One program that I run is a policy advocacy course that puts a mix of law, MPA (public administration) and MNAL (nonprofit management) students to work as lobbyists seeking changes to state and local policies.  The catch: students are not allowed to threaten litigation--they have to navigate political structures as a lobbyist (without any cash) would.  Our named partner this semester is United Way of Greater Cleveland, but students work with a range of community based organizations on issues ranging from animal cruelty to policy responses to the Heroin crisis, to local nuisance laws that lead to the eviction of victims of domestic violence.  The class has proven successful in accomplishing pedagogical goals, enhancing student career opportunities, and making a positive difference in the community. 

More common courses/practices in experiential nonprofit law include:

  • Board Fellows – several schools (including Cleveland State) run a program where students are placed as trustees on community boards in a non-voting capacity for an academic year
  • Start-up Workshop – the number of requests for assistance for creating a new nonprofit can be overwhelming, and law schools might offer advice on filing creation documents and seeking federal tax-exempt status. (Although, for a lot of these requests, the best and most honest advice is that the requester might want to rethink creating a new nonprofit.)
  • A Tax or Transactional Clinic -- assist nonprofits with a particular issue or transaction, e.g., Georgetown Law Clinic
  • UVa's Nonprofit Clinic -  provides a "legal health checkup" to nonprofit boards

Personally, I would like to see more interdisciplinary projects--students from law, business, social work, policy, etc.--to provide a deeper, richer analysis of an issue facing a nonprofit, while also giving students a more complete understanding of nonprofit practice (but disciplinary silos can be hard to break down.)

Other ideas?  How else can we get students engaged in meaningful work in nonprofit law?

@josephwmead

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/nonprofit/2016/10/experiential-learning-in-nonprofit-law.html

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