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Law School Spotlight: Remote Assistance

Grant from WWVP helping Law Clinic expand its operations outside traditional office settings

Law students at 2019-20 Law Clinic swearing-in

(Law Clinic students sworn in for the spring 2020 semester)

From Law Alumni Newsletter - Summer 2020

Thanks to a grant from the Washburn Women’s Venture Partners, the Washburn Law Clinic is better able to reach clients. The Law Clinic serves two important purposes – teaching students to practice law and providing free legal services to community members who couldn't otherwise afford representation. Because many clients are survivors of abuse, facing limited transportation options, or struggling with mobility challenges, it’s essential for the Law Clinic students to meet clients where they feel safe and comfortable.

Washburn Law Clinic student interns obtain special permission from the Kansas Supreme Court to practice law under faculty supervision. Clinic students represent individuals in three areas: family justice and immigration, civil litigation, and small business and nonprofit transactional law. Restrictions from COVID-19 have made it even more important for the clinic students to be able to conduct work outside the office, and the gift from WWVP will give the Law Clinic the technology needed to continue serving its clients in almost any situation.

WWVP awarded the Law Clinic a grant this spring to purchase a portable printer and scanner, allowing students to better work with clients remotely. The clinic also does community education presentations at gathering centers like the library and Topeka Rescue Mission and provides brief services at the YWCA and collections docket at Agricultural Hall. When Associate Professor Michelle Ewert applied for the grant, she didn’t know the upcoming restrictions due to COVID-19 would make this equipment even more essential.

“When we applied for the grant at the start of the year, we were really thinking about how we could get out and meet clients where they are in the community if they're having a hard time getting to the clinic office,” said Ewert, a clinic faculty member. “We also knew this technology would help with our outreach and community education events, where we sometimes need to scan documents or print information for people.”

Washburn University moved all classes online in March due to COVID-19, and the clinic staff had to rethink how to continue their work. They quickly adjusted to the new restrictions. Some students were already meeting by videoconference with clients outside the Topeka area, and they expanded that to local clients who have the technology. Not all clients have videoconference capabilities, however, so some in person meetings are still necessary.

“We realized this equipment could help us do our casework better since we're now having to do all our in-person meetings in very non-traditional places because of social distancing,” Ewert said. “We’re meeting in people's driveways, the parking lots of their apartment complexes, or the breezeway of the Law Clinic to sign documents and gather evidence.” Ewert stressed that having portable technology makes such meetings more feasible.

Other technological changes are allowing the Law Clinic to do its work during the shutdown. Clinic students have taken part in video conference hearings with the Topeka Municipal Court and Shawnee County District Court, and the clinic has utilized a new executive order allowing remote notarization of documents through videoconference. The sudden changes in the way law is practiced will end up giving students an even wider range of experiences, and the new equipment will play a large part.

“The students are seeing how lawyers can use technology to better serve their clients, especially during this difficult time,” Ewert said. “We're able to settle cases, conduct hearings, and execute client documents using tools that were not available to us 15 years ago. These cases can be absolutely transformative for the clients, and the remote lawyering experience is excellent training for our students.

“We're so appreciative of the support of WWVP. They are allowing us to continue to educate our students so they're prepared to step into practice and provide these really important services to the community. Our students are leaving clinic very well equipped for 21st century practice.”

Ichabod Bench

WWVP is a giving circle comprising Washburn alumnae and friends who volunteer their time and commit financial support to Washburn University. Members of WWVP make a commitment to donate a minimum of $2,000 per year to go to these University projects, and they meet each year to discuss applications and award grants. Learn more and consider joining at wualumni.org/wwvp.

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1729 MacVicar Avenue
Topeka, KS 66604 Phone: 785.670.4483
Email: contactus@wualumni.org