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Legal Clinics Win to Impact Workers’ Rights in Missouri

The Missouri Court of Appeals has ruled in favor of a worker who had been denied unemployment compensation, reversing the decision of the Labor and Industrial Relations Commission.

Part-time clinic student Patricia Bailey Beckerle wrote the brief and argued the case before the court on his behalf.

Patricia Bailey Beckerle

Part-time law student Patricia Bailey Beckerle had earlier served on the School of Law's National Moot Court Team but had not had experience in unemployment law before taking on the case. Photo by Maria Tsikalas

Beckerle’s involvement began in August when her client, a truck driver, reached out to the School of Law’s Legal Clinics for assistance. He had been denied benefits after his employment was terminated because he had been involved in two accidents. Beckerle’s job was to argue that an accident cannot be classified as “misconduct,” and that he was therefore entitled to unemployment compensation.

On Dec. 7, she made the argument in front of the Eastern District of the Court of Appeals, and the court ultimately agreed.

“It’s a really good decision that will help unemployed workers throughout Missouri,” said John Ammann, J.D., McDonnell Professor of Justice in American Society and litigation clinical instructor, who supervised Beckerle throughout the process. “This is all in a climate where the legislature is tightening the rules on eligibility for unemployment. This was our pushback against the system to sort of hold the line to say ‘This person didn’t do anything wrong; they should get their benefits.’ We believe the decision is going to have a huge benefit to workers all across Missouri.”

The clinic is really the only resource now for free services for unemployment cases."

John Ammann, J.D., McDonnell Professor of Justice in American Society

Beckerle credits her success to the assistance of Ammann and her fellow students, who helped her prepare and refine her argument. Almost all of her classmates came to support her and watch the argument on Dec. 7, despite the fact that final exams were going on at the time.

“This is the first document I’ve filed in a court, which is exciting to accomplish before I graduated,” Beckerle said. “And the reply brief was my first experience with the adversarial system. Law classes can be theoretical - because they need to be - and the clinic provided me with a very helpful practical experience to apply that learning."

Another supporter in court that day was newly appointed Dean Bill Johnson, J.D., who attended the argument as part of his effort to get a whole picture of what the student body and the clinic was doing. As he saw firsthand, it’s important work for Missouri’s underserved residents who could not otherwise afford legal assistance.

“The clinic is really the only resource now for free services for unemployment cases,” Ammann said. “Patricia combined her great abilities in the law with a great heart. The idea of serving the community really came through here. I find that our part-time evening students, because of their work commitments in addition to school, are very efficient workers. She used her time very well, essentially juggling three jobs -- law school classes, her clinic work and her regular job. Always very professional, always very prepared.”

Beckerle’s hard work paid off in the end. Her client’s birthday was a day before the court’s decision came out at the end of January. “It was a pretty good birthday present,” he told her.

Beckerle plans to graduate in May, sit for the Bar exam in July and take a position as an associate at Armstrong Teasdale in the fall, working in the finance and real estate group.