Law School Rolls Out ‘Wheels of Justice’
By Karen Sloan
National Law Journal
Sept. 29, 2016
What’s 30-feet long, stocked with law books, and red all over?
Mitchell Hamline School of Law’s so-called Wheels of Justice—a recreational vehicle retrofitted into a mobile pro bono law office.
The St. Paul law school on Thursday unveiled its latest public service initiative, the Mobile Law Network, which will dispatch students across Minnesota in the aforementioned R.V. to perform pro bono legal services for those in need.
Administrators say it’s the only program of its kind at a U.S. law school, though several other law schools partner with legal service providers to hold mobile law clinics. The University of Detroit Mercy School of Law in 2008 launched a similar R.V.-based program geared toward helping veterans, but later discontinued it.
“We’re very committed to access to legal services,” said Mitchell Hamline dean and president Mark Gordon. “We are very committed to students getting hands-on, practical learning experience. I think this is great way to marry the two.”
Gordon came up with the idea for the project and rounded up about $40,000 in donations to get it up and running.
The used, 20-year-old R.V. didn’t immediately impress students when it appeared in the law school’s parking lot over the summer, Gordon said. But their enthusiasm has grown since the hulking camper was spruced up and emblazoned with the law school’s name and colors.
The law school removed the R.V.’s bed to create two separate spaces where students can conduct confidential interviews. It’s also outfitted with internet access and laptops.
The school plans to partner with legal services providers across the state to assist their clients on expungements, family law matters and health care directives, though the scope of offered services is likely to grow, Gordon said. For now, the initiative is strictly a volunteer opportunity for students. They won’t receive academic credit for participating, though clinical faculty have expressed an interest in incorporating the Wheels of Justice into their formal coursework, Gordon said.
The hard-to-miss motor home may also prove an effective recruiting and alumni outreach tool. Alumni in smaller areas may volunteer to supervise students when the Wheel of Justice rolls into town, Gordon said, and it has already caught the eye of a few prospective law students.
One college senior has asked to participate in the initiate even before she enrolls at the law school, he added.
He sees the project as a way to refute the perception that law schools drain students of the idealism they initially bring to campus. “I think this sends a signal that says we’re not here to beat the idealism out of you,” he said. “We’re here to encourage the idealism in you. We’re really excited to get this on the road.”
Contact Karen Sloan at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @KarenSloanNLJ.