White Wins David Grant Clinic Student Award
A few hours before the hooding ceremony on May 15, the School of Law gathered to recognize the outstanding work of students from the Legal Clinics with the David Grant Clinic Student and CLEA Awards. The David Grant Award winner Darren White and finalists Christine Archer, Emily Elam, Justin Mulligan, Shannon O’Neal and Jenifer Snow, were celebrated for their dedication to protecting the rights of the poor and disenfranchised through their clinical work. In attendance for the 25th anniversary of the award was Gail Milissa Grant, daughter of the award’s namesake, David Grant, an area lawyer and civil rights leader.
Darren’s long history of public service, most notably as a six-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force, made his selection as the 2014 David Grant Clinic Student Award all the more meaningful. As a member of the Externship Clinic both fall and spring semesters (a rare occurrence in the Legal Clinics), he routinely exhibited a call to serve the community, including as a volunteer with the Veterans Advocacy Project. In the fall he worked with the Catholic Legal Assistance Ministry (CLAM), housed next door to the Clinics in Scott Hall, where he received experience in family law providing direct legal services to victims of domestic violence who needed help with orders of protection, divorce or custody issues.
As the semester was coming to a close, he realized he wanted to pursue other opportunities through the clinic. “He wanted to continue to serve and grow as a student, and as a future lawyer,” said Assistant Professor Amany Hacking, supervisor of the Externship Clinic.
At the Missouri Attorney General’s Office, Darren used the advocacy skills he learned throughout his tenure at SLU LAW on behalf of the government and state of Missouri, taking depositions, drafting and filing court pleadings, and even successfully arguing in front of a Circuit Court judge on behalf of the state.
Throughout his time in the clinic Darren demonstrated tremendous understanding and zeal. “Darren didn’t just complete his tasks and go home – he was thoughtful, compassionate, caring and committed,” said Hacking. “He treated each of his clients with respect and gave each case his all.”
David Grant Award Finalists
Christine worked in the Criminal Defense Clinic, which she said was “the single best thing I did in law school.” One of her most memorable moments happened in municipal court after she finished business with a client. There was commotion at the bench, and she quickly realized a woman was having trouble understanding what was happening because she was deaf. Christine immediately jumped in and spoke to the woman in sign language and helped her through her case.
As part of the holistic approach in the Criminal Defense Clinic, Christine worked closely with social worker Lauren Choate to set up services for the often mentally-ill criminal defendants clients she represented. She routinely treated her clients with compassion and respect and as a result was in charge of the municipal mental health court docket for the clinic in the spring, doubling the number of clients handled.
Emily was a part of the Externship Clinic as she interned at the St. Charles County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. There she researched a variety of legal issues and provided explanatory memoranda to attorneys, appeared in court on behalf of the State of Missouri, drafted criminal litigation documents. Emily was such a thorough hard-worker she was asked to continue her externship for a second semester.
The experience made her more empathetic, not just to the victims, but also to the defendants. “Being in the courtroom with them every day, watching them and talking to them during pleas has made them much more ‘human’ to me than they were before,” she said. “Before I started, they were just ‘bad guys,’ and now I see them . . . more often as people who made bad choices.”
From client interactions and drafting complaints to arguing motions and conducting a trial, Justin was able to experience the full gambit of the legal profession in the Litigation Clinic. “Regardless of the snags and difficulties along the way, I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to attain real-life experience in the field of civil litigation while having several tremendous attorneys to turn to for support and guidance,” he said.
Justin plans to begin his legal career at Thompson Coburn, focusing on intellectual property litigation. While there, he is certain he will draw upon many of his experiences in the clinic. “We owe it to each and every one of our clients, no matter how small, to work with complete dedication and loyalty.”
Shannon’s work in the Criminal Defense and Elder Law Clinics were the highlight of her law career. She regularly met with a client who cared for her partner, who was severely disabled by a brain aneurysm. While the legal concerns of the visit were handled within minutes, Shannon would stay, listen and provide emotional support. “It was my mission to ensure that, by the time I left, she had at least cracked a smile,” said Shannon.
Shannon hopes to practice criminal or family law and continue working within the public interest sector in order to carry on the community driven, holistic practice of law she learned at SLU. Her greatest aspiration is working with either the ACLU or the Innocence Project.
Jenifer worked on nine cases throughout her semester in the Litigation Clinic, each teaching her separate areas of law and different lessons about the legal profession by conducting a variety of legal actions in state and federal court, including class and individual actions in consumer law, foreclosures, and municipal court matters. As part of her clinic work, she advocated legislation in front of the Missouri House of Representatives and wrote an op-ed for that legislation, which was published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
“I continuously learned and was reminded why I went to law school in the first place – to help those in need,” said Jenifer. “Clinic, unlike any other experience I've had to date, showed me firsthand how important our profession is and how we have the power to continuously change lives and help those in need.”
Also taking place at the David Grant Awards ceremony was the presentation of the Clinic Legal Education Association (CLEA) award, given to one student who excelled in both the field work and classroom components of the clinic. This award is handed out at law school’s across the country with clinical programs. The 2014 winner was Patrick Collins, with Michelle Meyers also selected as a finalist.
Patrick spent his spring semester in the Child Advocacy Clinic. His most memorable case was a Social Security appeal, where he was able to win for a 12-year-old client who was denied disability benefits for his educational diagnosis of ADD. The family has since received several thousands of dollars to aid in his care.
This summer, Patrick will begin a 10 month teacher education program at the University of Pennsylvania where he will receive a master's in education along with certification to teach high school English. He plans to sit for the Pennsylvania Bar this summer and, after teaching for a few years, hopes to use his legal education to work in an education policy/administrative role. “Ideally, I wish to someday work for the U.S. Department of Education where I would take part in promulgating regulations under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act,” he said.
Michelle started her law school career assuming she would be a litigator, but soon discovered her passion was in transactional law. As a student in the Community & Economic Development Clinic, she worked on a wide variety of matters including working with a neighborhood association, a nonprofit focused on helping seniors age-in-place, a small business entrepreneur, a nonprofit affordable housing provider, and a research project to support a pilot project involving working with entrepreneurs returning home from prison.
“Because of her work, these clients can move forward with their plans, positively contributing to the social and economic fabric of our city,” said Assistant Professor Dana Malkus, supervisor of the Community & Economic Development Clinic.
While preparing for her law career, Michelle also devoted substantial time during law school to volunteer activities such as serving as a court appointed special advocate for kids and working with the Junior League of St. Louis.