The School of Law’s clinical education program – where student attorneys develop their legal skills while serving clients who sorely need the help – is wrapping up this most unusual school year with the satisfaction of a job well done.
“It’s been challenging,” acknowledges Professor Judith Olin, who directs the Family Violence & Women’s Rights Clinic, “but we’ve been able to continue meeting with clients virtually by phone or via Zoom. It was hard for the students not to be in court, because that is such a big part of the clinic, so we had to get creative. And we were able to do that because of our close relationships with our community partners and their ability to provide work that was easy to accomplish virtually, such as research.”
In Olin’s clinic, some students participated in both the fall and spring semesters. “They feel invested in the cases, the clients and the issues,” she says. “Some cases we’ve spent 400 to 500 hours on, such as a contested custody case that we’ve taken to a hearing. It’s enormously labor-intensive.”
That passion for the subject characterizes all seven of the law school’s clinics – students join a clinic because they’re drawn to a certain focus of law. And across the board, their work has produced results. Here are some highlights from this year showing our students’ impact:
Animal Law Clinic (Professor Kim Diana Connolly)
- Provided legal support for a client to facilitate the foster care of animals during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Civil Liberties & Transparency Clinic (Staff Attorney Michael Higgins)
- Trained local journalists on the Freedom of Information Law to enhance their investigative reporting.
- Filed a lawsuit challenging a Niagara County law that hides the financial disclosures of elected officials from public view.
- Obtained incident reports and other documents previously withheld by the Erie County Sheriff’s Office showing that the sheriff misclassified suicidal behavior by prison inmates as “inmate disturbances.”
Entrepreneurship Law Center Clinic (Adjunct Professor Matthew Pelkey)
- Worked with a biotech startup from formation through its first professional investment.
- In partnership with Blackstone Launchpad, established a pop-up clinic to provide easy access to student entrepreneurs.
- Drafted the investment documents for UB’s iHUB seed fund.
Environmental Advocacy Clinic (Professor Kim Diana Connolly)
- Celebrated a victory with clinic client Lead716, as the Erie County Legislature established a pilot program to provide lead-poisoned children with educational support.
- Collaborating with the Puerto Rico Recovery Assistance Legal Clinic, obtained 501(c)(3) status for client, El Departamento de la Comida.
- Student attorneys Trejahn Hunter ’21 and Zachary Kiel ’21, moderated an online event on April 27, titled Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions: Lessons from Puerto Rico and COVID-19 from the Co-Founders of RISE-PR. The event looked at sustainability in today’s Puerto Rico and how universities and institutions respond to disasters and other unexpected events.
Family Violence & Women’s Rights Clinic (Professor Judith Olin)
- Student attorneys Rachel Vicario ’20 and Darian Wilkom ’20 were recognized in this year’s UB Celebration of Student Academic Excellence for their poster on the clinic’s teen dating violence prevention project. Clinic students have trained over 600 high school students on dating violence prevention.
- Student attorney Jon Francisco ’20 worked with the National Crime Victim Law Institute to file with the Second Circuit Court of Appeals an emergency stay of sentencing due to COVID-19, and writ of mandamus in a sex crimes case.
- Student attorneys Molly Rogers ’20 and Ashley Jindra ’20 successfully argued for and obtained emergency temporary custody of children who were chronically maltreated by their caregiver. They ran a hearing to decide the question of permanent custody, and are awaiting a final decision.
- Student attorneys are partnering with attorneys at Neighborhood Legal Services to represent a disabled client who was served with divorce papers and is facing multiple financial and personal problems.
- A bilingual student attorney is assisting a low-income, Spanish-speaking client in a post-matrimonial enforcement matter where the ex-husband is failing to abide by the terms of the divorce judgment.
Mediation Clinic (Adjunct Professor Steven Sugarman)
- Clinic students each mediated two cases with actual disputants in small claims matters in Amherst and Lancaster town courts.
- Clinic students created a training video, with each student filming sections about different phases of the mediation process and teaching the skills needed in each stage. The video included simulations of “how to” and “how not to” run each stage of the process.
- Each student conducted a 30- to 60-minute interview with accomplished professional mediators in the United States and internationally, including mediators in Germany, Pakistan, Australia and the Netherlands.
Puerto Rico Recovery Assistance Legal Clinic (Professor Kim Diana Connolly)
- Clinic students made their fifth trip to Puerto Rico since January 2018.
- Spanish-speaking students from the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures joined law students, Trejahn Hunter ’21 and Zachary Kiel ’21, to provide cultural and language expertise. The #UBLawResponds team worked to complement existing local work and added legal and policy bandwidth to help strengthen preparedness, response and recovery in the face of growing threats posed by a changing climate and extreme weather. Before their departure, students learned new areas of law and policy to help them address the island’s current needs. They explored earthquake response literature and approaches to post-disaster, short-term action support and worked with partners in Puerto Rico to prepare to be in the best position to serve.