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Practice Areas

Criminal Defense

The clinic’s student legal interns represent criminal defendants charged with serious and aggravated misdemeanors such as operating while intoxicated, possession of controlled substances, theft, and assault. The clients are taken on referral from the Johnson County Public Defenders office after the district court has concluded they are indigent and entitled to appointed counsel. The interns, under faculty supervision, are responsible for litigating the entire case; they will interview the client, draft the appropriate notices, motions and briefs, negotiate with the County Attorney’s office and represent the defendant at suppression hearings, trials, and sentencings. Most importantly, the interns are responsible for counseling these clients, who are facing up to two years in state prison, through a series of very difficult decisions about their cases.

Disability Rights and Policy

The clinic's advocacy extends to the statehouse as well as to the streets of our communities. The clinic, through work supported in part by the Iowa Program for Assistive Technology (IPAT), has represented individuals with disabilities in their efforts to secure equipment needed for school, employment, or the home. In addition to these individual cases, the clinic collaborates with and represents community groups to remove barriers and improve the lives and opportunities of persons with disabilities, older Iowans, and other disenfranchised or unempowered groups. The clinic's Law and Policy in Action community-based projects have coordinated successful campaigns to enact assistive technology consumer protection laws and small business tax credits; to have Iowa City fund, build, and sell a single family home that showcases universal design features; and to adopt one of the nation's first universal design ordinances. The clinic partners with the public and private sectors to raise awareness, conduct educational workshops and improve access and disability services. Student interns and faculty research the law, conduct access surveys, review blueprints, and work with architects, owners, and builders to develop sustainable, multigenerational housing and commercial facilities.

Domestic Violence

Clinic student legal interns represent survivors of domestic violence seeking orders of protection from the court and contempt sanctions against abusers who violate such orders. Because of the urgency, hearings are scheduled within a few days of original filing and interns work quickly to interview clients and witnesses, obtain evidence, and prepare for court appearances. 

Domestic violence cases present interns with the challenging emotional conflicts inherent in family law. In addition to physical battering, clients have endured psychological torment from abusers. Interns have assisted clients whose abusers have burned all their clothing or displayed intimate photographs of them in public places. Interns must treat clients with sensitivity, ensure that clients receive appropriate services, and follow up to see that protection orders are enforced.

Employment Law

The Clinic accepts a number of cases in which workers pursue disputes with their employers or former employers, or in which workers seek employment-related benefits from the state. Students may be assigned to work on cases involving employment discrimination, wrongful discharge, breach of employment contracts, wage disputes, claims for unemployment compensation, or other matters relating to employment. They may be assigned to investigate complaints brought to the clinic by new clients, or they may be assigned to ongoing cases already in the process of litigation. Many cases involve hearings before administrative tribunals. In the past, students have participated actively in full scale trials of discrimination and wrongful discharge claims, as well as in drafting documents, conducting discovery, preparing trial briefs and jury instructions, and writing appellate briefs. These cases offer many opportunities for students to research rapidly changing areas of the law and, along with their faculty supervisors, develop strategies for negotiation or litigation.

General Civil

Student legal interns represent clients in a variety of civil cases. The cases have included the representation of consumers, tort defense, and some types of family law cases. These cases offer the opportunity for interns to work on all phases of civil litigation, including discovery, motion practice, and trials.

One source of cases for this area is the Muscatine Intake Project, a co-operative effort with the New Iowan Center of Muscatine. The majority of clients of the project communicate primarily in Spanish. While the Clinic provides interpreters for client interviews, some interns have had sufficient proficiency in Spanish to communicate directly with clients.

Immigration and Asylum Law

Students in the in-house clinic can choose to work in the Immigration and Asylum Law practice group.  Supervised primarily by Clinical Professor Barbara Schwartz, students in this group represent foreign nationals in their efforts to secure asylum from countries where they have experienced persecution.  Besides asylum, students in the Immigration and Asylum Law practice group might work in the area of family-based immigration, VAWA (Violence Against Women Act), removal defense, naturalization, and other forms of immigration benefits. The Clinic has represented families from every part of the world–Latin American, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, Europe, and the Far East.

This practice area gives clinic students a terrific opportunity to learn Immigration Law, familiarize themselves with the various federal agencies charged with administration of our country’s immigration law and procedure, and to develop skills particularly useful in practicing immigration law. But students who do not necessarily want to practice Immigration Law upon graduation will find the cases both interesting and educational. Students engage in interviewing and counseling, fact investigation and case planning, research and writing, and courtroom advocacy, all skills generalizable to any practice area.  Some students get to use their foreign language skills in the representation of their clients; all the students learn the critical skill of working with interpreters. 

If you have any questions about the practice group, you can e-mail Professor Schwartz or the clinic administrators at

Family Representation Clinic

Students will represent parents whose children are the subject of Child in Need of Assistance proceedings.