NIU to open legal clinic downtown

NIU to open legal clinic downtown

By Shellie Berg

By Shellie Berg

Staff Reporter

On Jan. 16, the Planning & Development Committee considered giving $50,000 from the WestSide Tax Increment fund to NIU, which will appear on the River District scene next month.

The grant would help the TRT (Talcott and Rockford Trust buildings) with assistance in renovations. NIU Law School in DeKalb will use the first floor of the Talcott Building for the new Zeke Giorgi Legal Clinic.

The renovations cost $126,287.40. TRT will invest $76,287.40 in equity funds, and TRT has requested $50,000 from the WestSide TIF. If approved, the $50,000 won’t be paid back.

“After reviewing the financial data from the property owners, it was determined that the building really couldn’t support any additional debt,” said Bob Long, the city’s economic development coordinator.

Despite his opposition to using TIF funds for the Charles Street realignment, mayoral candidate Larry Morrissey thinks that putting the funds toward the NIU project is a good idea.

The first floor’s renovations include new carpeting, windows and paint. Renovations began in early fall and are anticipated to be completed in late February. The clinic will be free and open to the public.

The school received a grant from the state for operations from now until next year.

Dave Schmit, vice president of TRT, said the inquiry for assistance from the city was the first the TRT has asked for in seven or eight years. “You just get to the point where you need help,” he said.

Schmit thinks the investment is good, since TRT is paving the way for a new downtown tenant. He also said that the clinic will open the door for students to live in the area. “I just think it’s going to spark a lot of interest,” he noted.

Long agreed. “It’ll help or maintain traffic in the downtown area by drawing people for services,” he stated, “to keep people used to coming downtown for legal services of all sorts and to help keep major downtown buildings full.”

Schmit said NIU wanted to use the building because the 13,500 sq. foot space is conducive to the school’s needs. “They needed a wide-open space for a lot of modular-type work stations,” Schmit said.

Long also said the building is well suited for the clinic. “It was traditionally the premier office location for professional offices in Rockford for ages and ages and ages,” Long noted. “It still is an attractive location … because it’s so close to the courthouse.”

Two attorneys from the NIU Law School and two secretaries will be the full-time staff at the clinic. The center will allow 15 to 24 supervised students to have a hand in providing services.

Malcolm Morris, professor and director of skills training for NIU’s law school, will oversee some of the operations. He said the clinic will provide law students with real-world opportunities.

“Clinical education is an important way for law students to have the opportunity to use the theoretical rules they learn to apply them to practice,” he said.

Each school semester, the clinic will focus on a particular area. For example, Morris said the clinic may focus on local issues concerning landlords and tenants.

“These are not matters that result in a person winning a money judgment,” he remarked. “It’s really more geared toward things that are personal-issue related, rather than financial-related … we’re not, in effect, competing with the local bar.”

He also said the free services at the clinic help individuals who might not otherwise be able to afford them.

“I think we all hope it turns out that we do make a significant contribution,” Morris stated.

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