Legal Aid Clinic
The Legal Aid Clinic at KU Law offers students the opportunity to fine-tune their lawyering skills in a fast-paced, live-client setting by representing low-income clients under the careful guidance and thoughtful teaching of supervising attorneys. Since 1967, the Legal Aid Clinic has been working to secure “justice for and to protect the rights of the needy” in a wide range of civil and misdemeanor criminal cases. All clinic students must become licensed for supervised practice through Kansas Supreme Court Rule 719, which requires a minimum of 60 hours of coursework.
The clinic is structured around three inter-related educational components: a weekly class meeting, formal and informal supervision, and live-client representation under Kansas Rule 719. At the weekly class meeting, students might discuss and troubleshoot cases through “case rounds,” apply lawyering skills through simulations, or discuss readings about social justice, skills application or substantive law. When possible, speakers from the community and the local bar will share their insights from practice. Through supervision sessions, students work one-on-one with faculty members to reflect on performance, discuss case work, engage in critical assessment and feedback, and develop professional identity. The highlight for many clinic students, however, is the opportunity to take the lead role in representing clients — from initial interview and counseling, to court appearances and motion arguments, through settlement or trial — thereby building confidence and competence throughout the semester.
The Legal Aid Clinic faculty strives to select and assign cases that offer the greatest opportunity for impact and growth. Each semester, the faculty will focus on a social justice issue, substantive law theme or population to help focus and stimulate learning. Some recent areas of representation include:
- A criminal practice for juveniles charged with crimes in Douglas County District Court;
- A criminal practice for adults charged with crimes and municipal violations in Lawrence Municipal Court; and
- A civil practice that may include protection from abuse, consumer advocacy, juvenile rights, and other matters.
For more information about enrolling in the Legal Aid Clinic, please contact the clinic faculty or stop by 105 Green Hall.
Speaking and listening: Bill Walberg & Kasper Schirer, L’15
Before he enrolled in the Legal Aid Clinic, Bill Walberg described his communication skills as “lacking.” “I had a terrible fear of public speaking,” he said. “My first oral argument I panicked and could barely get my argument out. I wanted experience in an uncontrolled setting like the courtroom, and that’s what the Legal Aid Clinic provided for me.”
Within a month of enrolling in the clinic, Walberg was in the courtroom in front of a judge. “I had a couple shakes in the beginning, but now my fear of public speaking is pretty much gone,” he said.
For Kasper Schirer, the listening component of the clinic was just as important as speaking. One of his first clients was a high school student charged with marijuana possession. Though she had confessed to the charge, her school resource officer searched her and came up empty-handed. “The first time I met her, I put her into a box,” Schirer said. “After talking to her and learning that what I read in the police reports was largely accurate, I decided that the best box to put her in would be diversion.” Diversion is a process in which a defendant admits to the underlying offense and serves a term similar to probation and community service. In exchange, the prosecutor dismisses the charges after the term has expired and conditions have been met.
As the case progressed, Schirer encountered snags—lost paperwork, the client’s move and transfer to a new school, new charges. As Schirer reconsidered the case, he discovered a pattern among high school students charged with crimes: Many, including his client, were not informed of their rights. “We ended up challenging the confession because she had not been read her Miranda rights,” Schirer said. “The case got dismissed, which was a great result because not only did she not have the charge on her record, she didn’t have to go to trial. When I re-evaluated that situation I realized that I was a little bit too eager to put her into a category rather than trying something new, which in her case was a valid option.”
For both students, the Legal Aid Clinic provided more than courtroom experience and valuable client interaction. It also taught them to identify the underlying systemic issues that create challenges for low-income clients. Seminar discussions ranged from unrest in Ferguson, to the national conversation about modern-day debtors’ prisons clients encounter when they are charged fines for minor offenses, then end up in jail when they can’t pay the fees.
“I already feel like I’m a year ahead of my colleagues because I’ve been in the courtroom all semester,” Walberg said. “It was a great experience. Nothing else in law school can even compare to this.”
Eligible legal aid interns must satisfy Supreme Court Rule 719, which requires that they have completed four semesters of course work (60 hours) and be in good academic standing. Professional Responsibility is a prerequisite, and Trial Advocacy is a pre- or co-requisite. The clinic is a one-semester commitment, with a second semester option for eligible students.
Clinic applications are usually due about two weeks before a semester’s registration opens. Check with faculty or see the weekly KU Law email for specific deadlines. Please contact Professor DeRousse if you would like to discuss enrollment.
Applications are available below and in the Legal Aid office, 105 Green Hall.
Download an application (PDF)