Kansas Bar Association honors KU Legal Aid Clinic for providing free legal services

LAWRENCE — The University of Kansas School of Law’s Legal Aid Clinic received a Pro Bono Award from the Kansas Bar Association at the annual Kansas Bar Foundation recognition ceremony and dinner last month in Overland Park.

Legal Aid Clinic Director Melanie DeRousse said the clinic was nominated for the award based on its work last fall to provide free legal assistance to individuals eligible to renew their Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) authorization.

“It’s a great recognition for our KU community that we rallied so quickly to learn the law that applied and figure out how to best serve the community,” DeRousse said. “We had students in their first, second and third years of law school volunteer for it. Usually, Legal Aid Clinic is just third-year law students at the very end of law school who are ready to hone their litigation skills. For this particular project, we opened it up to the whole law school.”

DeRousse said the students got to practice a variety of legal skills through their volunteer work with the DACA clinic, such as client counseling, interviewing clients about difficult issues, learning to be precise and meticulous when filling out forms for the federal government and understanding the need for lawyers to be able to respond to emergency justice needs in the community.

“It’s a really wonderful feeling to know that we are part of something so big and that we were able to pivot and respond to an immediate legal need with just the resources in this building and the energy of the students and faculty who volunteered,” DeRousse said.

The Legal Aid Clinic offers students the opportunity to fine-tune their lawyering skills in a fast-paced, live-client setting by representing low-income clients under the guidance and 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. 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.

The KU School of Law encourages all students to make a commitment to pro bono service as part of their professional lives.

Twenty-nine KU Law students contributed more than 3,373 hours of free legal services over the past year, earning a spot on KU Law’s Pro Bono Honor Roll. Pro bono work is defined as uncompensated, law-related work that benefits the public, such as through a nonprofit organization or government agency.

Students prepared tax returns for low-income residents, represented the interests of children as court-appointed special advocates, helped clients expunge past criminal convictions and prepared guardianship petitions for families seeking to secure their adult children’s futures.