Conrad Johnson teaches a course at Columbia Law School that shows students how technology interphases with the job of being an attorney. The professor has teamed up with the Western New York Law Center and Erie County Clerk Michael Kearns to create a system where law students can do research about vacant and abandoned properties for Erie County municipalities. The students then receive credit for their pro bono requirements.
"So it's sort of a symbiotic relationship in a way where they can do this research and learn, and municipalities get this research done, but the students also get credit for it. It works out really well," said Kate Lockhart, of Western New York Law Center.
A unique aspect of this program is that students can do the research remotely, which is said to be different from many other pro bono hours.
The research is very detailed, using public records located within the Erie County clerk system. Students look for deed transfers, foreclosure information, and anything related to the property which might reveal who owns it.
"We still have a vacant and abandoned property issue in New York state, and we still have one in Erie County, even though we've had the best economy we've had in quite some time," said Kearns.
"So that we can then tell the municipality, ‘This who you need to take to court’ or ‘This is the situation...maybe it's an estate case, maybe there is a tax foreclosure coming,’ so the municipality knows what to do going forward," said Lockhart.
Though this partnership has been in place for about a year and a half, it took about two semesters to get the program up and running.
Now this opportunity is open to any law student, not just ones from Columbia. Anyone who is a law student or someone who wants to become an attorney licensed in New York state who needs to do their pro bono hours can volunteer for the program. Details can be found here.