UND law students will get some real-world family law experience through a new learning opportunity at the law school.

The UND family law clinical practicum will be taking divorce, custody, domestic violence protection order and disorderly conduct restraining order cases in Grand Forks County at no charge to the client, including filing fees. The program was launched Monday, Jan. 11. A practicum is an undergraduate or graduate-level course, often in a specialized field of study, that is designed to give students supervised practical experience on various topics.

People are constantly looking for free or reduced rate legal services related to family law, said Ariana Meyers, UND law professor and Grand Forks attorney, especially recently during the pandemic as there seems to be an increase in domestic violence. She said there will likely be more people looking to get restraining orders or protection orders.

“(It’s) really just based on the needs of the community,” she said. “But then from a student perspective, it's a really great area of law, because they will have so much client interaction."

The law school has not had a law clinic since 2017, when funding shortages caused the previous clinic, which focused on housing, employment and immigration, to close. It’s been at least a decade since UND has had a family law clinic, Meyers said.

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Four students and Meyers, serving as the supervising attorney, will be a part of the group.

"We are excited that we’ve added the family law clinical practicum to our curriculum this year, with the support we’ve received from the State Board, the Legislature and our alumni," Dean Michael McGinniss said. "Our faculty is still considering what further direction we may take with faculty-supervised experiential learning, including whether to re-open a traditional law clinic or to expand clinical practicum opportunities such as this one.”

Those interested in applying for the services should reach out to the administrative assistant at (701) 777-2932.

The course will provide valuable experience to second- and third-year law students and will give students the chance to work on legal writing and advocacy skills while gaining real-world experience with clients in a faculty-supported setting.

“They can attend mediation with a client, be in the courtroom and just really deal with some emotionally difficult areas of law,” Meyers said. “Hopefully, that translates into making them better listeners, more empathetic and just better attorneys for when they graduate.”

Student attorneys will be expected to conduct client and witness interviews, make court appearances, manage the client’s file and other associated work. Most of the work likely will be done digitally this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, Meyers said.

Four students were selected for the course.

Law student Marisa Gunhouse says she is “thrilled” to be part of the family law practicum and she looks forward to the learning opportunity.

"This opportunity will allow me to utilize the knowledge and skills I have gained from my time in law school,” she said. “Grand Forks has been my home for the past three years and I look forward to serving a community that has welcomed me with open arms."

Morgan Wentz also will be participating. She said the course will provide her with real-life experience representing individuals and families.

"I am grateful to have this experience in law school and make a positive impact on people's lives,” Wentz said. “Many of us have chosen to attend law school with the core intent of helping others. This clinic has made that goal a reality for me and has enabled me to gain valuable skills and experience that can benefit me in my future law practice."

Joshua Breeze is a Canadian law student at UND who also is looking forward to the experience.

"I believe the practicum will be a great way to gain experience practicing law, as well as the opportunity to work within the Grand Forks community and help those in need," he said.