March/April 2005
Professor Howard I. Rosenberg
with Professor Margaret Walker
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The University of Denver Student Law Office:
One Hundred Years of Real World Experience
© Copyright 2001-2014. Pamela Trudo. All rights reserved.

Q:  Why did you decide to pursue a career in the law?

HR:  I pursued a career in law because a political science/American history degree was not of much economic value in 1949 and it is probably true today.

Q:  Where did you attend law school?

HR:  I attended De Paul University in Chicago, Illinois.

Q:  What did you do after law school?

HR:  I was on the legal staff of the largest independent consumer finance and loan corporation in Illinois.

Q:  You became involved with the Student Law Office (SLO) at the University of Denver in the 1950’s. Is it true that the Student Law Office is the oldest student law clinic in the US?

HR:  Yes, the Denver Law School started its student clinic in 1904 and hired a former trial attorney, Robert I. Gregg . . . from Chicago, I believe . . . to direct the clinic. The clinic was the first student law clinic in the country that was an integral unit of the law school and it was featured in the Denver Law School ads to recruit new students.

Q:  What is the history of the Student Law Office?

HR:  It started in 1904. As the years went on, the Denver Legal Aid Society, formed in 1925 and celebrating its eighty-year anniversary this year, became the vehicle for DU law students to receive training in representing low income clients in civil matters under the supervision of legal aid staff attorneys. A faculty member was designated to very loosely oversee the students enrolled in the criminal representation program.

Much credit for the continued development of the DU clinic goes to Dean Yegge who gave the clinic its first jump start in about 1969, when he hired Dick Lamm as the first clinic director and professor and allocated enough money to hire an assistant director, Howard Gelt, and two talented staff lawyers, Jim Kurtz-Phelan and John T. Baker, as well as an administrator and secretary.

When Dick Lamm decided to run for governor of Colorado, I was appointed as his successor, as Director of Clinical Education and professor in 1973.

When Dan Hoffman became Dean, he set the clinic as one of his highest priorities and he gave the clinic the concept of a law office and the name, Student Law Office. Today, Dean Mary Ricketson continues the priorities of Yegge and Hoffman with her support of the SLO through getting two more clinic faculty lines and a staff lawyer position, thereby enabling the clinic to expand to keep up with the growing student interest and community needs.

Q:  Why was SLO formed?

HR:  The SLO was formed to train and supervise the students in their clinical experiences through staff faculty and staff lawyers.

Q:  What was the law clinic like in the 1950’s when you became involved?

HR:  Civil law experience was provided by and through representing clients of the Denver Legal Aid Society. Criminal law experience continued through loose oversight of students by a designated faculty member.

Q:  What changes has SLO gone through and how is it organized today?

HR:  Today, the clinic has faculty whose sole responsibility is to teach, train and supervise students in civil, criminal, disability and mediation processes. In addition, the clinic director is responsible for overseeing an environmental law clinic, a children’s advocacy clinic, and a very comprehensive internship program.

Q:  How many students are involved in a year’s time?

HR:  Approximately one hundred students are involved with the clinic over two semesters each year. And about one hundred students are involved each semester in a large number of internship opportunities, such as working in law firms, courts, public defender offices, district attorney offices, city attorney offices, and legal services.

Q:  How much formal training do the students receive?

HR:  Civil, criminal, disability and mediation students are formally trained through classes that are generally held twice each week throughout the semester. Classes include procedure, trial processes, evidentiary issues, and opening and closing argument. Classes are also held in substantive law regarding family, landlord-tenant, and disability law. In mediation classes students learn how to mediate rather than how to advocate.

Q:  What does a student come away with after having been involved with the law clinic?

HR:  Students learn what lawyers do. In some of the civil and criminal clinics, they do exactly what a lawyer would do in the cases that they handle.

Q:  I read that an important case handled by SLO was the Battered Women’s Clemency Reform Project in 1998. Can you talk about that?

HR:  I suggest you talk to Margaret Walker of our clinical faculty or Nancy Ehrenreich of our regular faculty, as I know very little about this project.

[Interview with Professor Margaret Walker]

Q:  What is your connection with SLO? 

MW:  I have worked in the SLO since 1988 in a variety of positions.  Currently I am the staff attorney.

Q:  Who brought the idea for the Battered Women’s Clemency Project to SLO? 

MW:  The idea for the Women’s Clemency Project came from a student research assistant of Professor Nancy Ehrenreich.  Jacqueline St. Joan was the SLO director at the time. She felt the idea was important. The three faculty members researched the process, interviewed and selected clients and made arrangements with the Department of Corrections. There were three teams of two students who each represented a client in prison for killing her batterer.  I supervised two teams and Professor Ehrenreich supervised one team.  Professor St. Joan worked with a student who wrote an overarching memo explaining domestic violence issues and why clemency was appropriate for some women.

Q:  What were the legal issues? 

MW:  The legal issues that we looked at were whether the women could have used the battered women’s syndrome defense.  (All of the cases we chose were adjudicated prior to the first time that theory was raised in Colorado).  We also used the clemency process in Colorado, wrote a clemency petition for the women and appeared before the clemency board to argue our position.

Q:  How many students worked on the project over how much time? 

MW:  There were seven students enrolled in the clinic during spring and summer semesters in 1998.  We also trained a group of lawyers to do some other cases that were submitted to the governor just before he left office in December 1998.

Q:  What was the outcome?

MW:  Governor Romer reduced the sentence for one of our clients by five years.  (She had gotten a longer sentence than her co-defendant who admitted that he did the killing.)  Governor Romer also granted some form of clemency for three of the cases brought by the other attorneys.  There was some good press concerning the issue of domestic violence and clemency.  The students worked with psychologists in preparing their petitions and we prepared them to deal with the press.  These are experiences that most law students do not address in law school

[End of interview with Professor Margaret Walker]

Q:  What other major projects has SLO taken on?

HR:  Predatory lending, improper consumer credit sales of automobiles, and legislative changes in landlord-tenant law (unsuccessful efforts that began in about 1968).

Q:  Does Denver’s legal community generally accept the law students in the courtroom?

HR:  Yes, and with enthusiasm for a program that represents clients who may go unrepresented and at the same time trains students to actually practice law. Many of the judges that we appear in front of were students in the program at one time.

Q:  There must be personal satisfaction for having been involved with SLO for a half century. Care to comment?

HR:  It’s been really great working with different students over the last forty-eight years. I have been fortunate to be able to do this, to be involved directly with students, to see their development and to often work with them as they progress into the profession. In some cases, they have become personal friends.

Q:  How was the one hundred-year celebration in October 2004?

HR:  The one hundred-year celebration was good. It reminded the Colorado community of our service to low-income and underserved communities and it gave a number of our former clinic students time to chat with us and their former student colleagues. I only regret that we did not get as many of our former students as I would have liked to attend.

Q:  Any further comments?

We get a number of our graduates who say their clinic experience was the best thing they did in law school. Many attribute their experience with SLO to their growth and in networking that started their careers in law. They also often continue their pro bono work into their career, as well.


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Interviewed January 2005 via email and fax from Denver, Colorado.
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