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Elon connects law students to community

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Todd Cohen

GREENSBORO, N.C. — This fall, a first-year student from Elon University’s Greensboro-based School of Law accompanied Marsh Prause, a lawyer at Smith Moore Leatherwood, to a “calendar call” before a Guilford County superior court judge.

At the session, Prause and other lawyers representing clients in roughly two-dozen cases appeared before the judge to review all the motions they had filed in those cases.

“These are the things they talk about in civil procedure,” Prause says, referring to a required class for first-year law students that focuses on the rules governing the way courts and cases operate.

“When they’re studying in the classroom, that can seem abstract,” he says. “As he walked out [of the calendar call], for the first time he realized the true depth and breadth of the kinds of disputes that come up in litigation.”

Prause is one of 49 local lawyers who are serving this year as “preceptors” for first-year law students at Elon who supplement their required course in “Lawyering, leadership and professionalism.”

Each preceptor works with two to three students, mentoring them on the practical and ethical aspects of the legal profession.

In addition to meeting with students to answer questions and talk about their concerns, preceptors observe them in class and give them feedback, and also invite the students to observe them at work.

Students, for example, have seen oral arguments at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit; attended motions hearings in the North Carolina Business Court, located in the same building as the law school; received a primer at a corporate law firm about practicing securities law; and attended criminal court in the Guilford County Courthouse.

They also have participated in research and the preparation of pleadings for a pro-bono case, and attended depositions, hearings and mediation sessions.

Prause says he has invited students to visit his office to see how a law firm operates, including the economics of the law business.

They learned how lawyers market themselves; check for possible relationships their firm may have with other parties in a dispute before taking on new clients; keep track of their time; and prepare bills for clients.

“There’s such a huge disparity between what it’s like to be a law student and a lawyer,” Prause says.

Margaret Robison Kantlehner, an associate professor of law at Elon who directs the preceptor program, says the generosity of the local legal community in donating time to the program has been critical, including support from the Greensboro Bar Association, North Carolina Association of Women Attorneys, and Guilford Black Lawyers Association.

As part of their required first-year leadership class, students also learn about how to practice philanthropy, selecting nonprofits that will receive small grants with funds provided by the Center for Creative Leadership.

And as part of their required second-year leadership class, “Public law and leadership,” students take on projects for local nonprofits.

This year, the students have prepared a request for proposals that has generated applications from 10 local nonprofits, says Faith Rivers James, an associate professor of law who teaches the class.

“We’re preparing them to assume leadership roles in the community where the live and practice,” James says.

Prause says the leadership program at Elon is designed to produce lawyers who will be both “productive members of the legal community,” as well as community leaders.

“The practice of law,” he says, “is a form of community service.”

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