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KU law school launches legal research corps

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

LAWRENCE – A new project at the University of Kansas School of Law aims to meet community needs for legal services and provide hands-on learning to law students.

Through the KU Law Legal Corps, students will bolster their legal research and writing skills while working on projects such as preparing documents, assessing community legal needs and summarizing recent court decisions.

Summer 2020 Legal Corps projects include pro bono opportunities with regional nonprofit organizations and government agencies, as well as internships with Kansas Legal Services (KLS).

Students will work on pro bono projects such as developing documents for the Access to Justice Committee of the Kansas Supreme Court, conducting legal research for the Willow Domestic Violence Center and Douglas County CASA, and helping complete a community legal needs assessment for Legal Aid of Western Missouri.

Pro bono work – defined as uncompensated, law-related work that benefits the public – offers students a chance to give back to the community, said Meredith Schnug, clinical associate professor and chair of KU Law’s Pro Bono Committee.

“Using their legal research and writing skills, KU Law students are providing a great service to local organizations. The students' work is especially important now, as many nonprofits must shift their service models in response to the pandemic,” Schnug said.

Legal Aid of Western Missouri is partnering with the KU Law Legal Corps to complete a legal needs assessment and a report on its access to justice initiatives. The nonprofit organization provides free civil legal services to low-income and vulnerable individuals in a 40-county area of Missouri that includes Kansas City, Joplin, St. Joseph and Warrensburg. Students assigned to the project will survey stakeholders including former clients, judges and partner agencies, then analyze survey data and prepare reports.

"This community legal needs assessment will provide us with feedback from our clients and our partners in order to better serve some of the most vulnerable members of our community,” said Alicia Johnson, deputy director of Legal Aid of Western Missouri. 

“We also want to get a sense of how we can provide increased accessibility to our clients. Very often, people experience so many barriers to accessing legal help, and we'd like to do our part to assist in minimizing these hurdles,” Johnson said.

The Legal Corps has also partnered with Kansas Legal Services to recruit interns to address legal needs created by COVID-19. KLS is a statewide, nonprofit corporation that provides legal assistance to low-income Kansans. Current students and recent graduates are working with KLS staff attorneys on cases involving debt collection and housing issues. 

The legal research project is part of the school’s efforts to match students with legal experiences this summer, said Heather Spielmaker, assistant dean for career services at KU Law.

“The Career Services Office at KU Law strives to ensure that all students have the chance to gain legal skills over the summer,” Spielmaker said. “This program helped us achieve our goal.”

Agencies interested in working with the KU Law Legal Corps may contact Spielmaker at hspielmaker@ku.edu.

Outside of the Legal Corps, law students this summer are also working as research assistants with KU Law faculty and completing internships with support from the Public Interest Stipend Program. In April and May, 10 students provided free legal services to health care workers through the Advance Care Planning Clinic. More information about those programs is available at law.ku.edu/summer-2020.