LEXINGTON, Ky. — Navigating the logistics of the legal system can be as perplexing as learning a new language. You would often turn to a lawyer as an interpretive guide. But, for so many Kentuckians, legal representation is a luxury.
In 1997, the University of Kentucky J. David Rosenberg College of Law set out to bring equality to the legal process. That vision led to the creation of the UK Legal Clinic.
Tucked away in a small house on Maxwelton Court, you’ll find third-year law students, supervised by the clinic director, providing free advice, consultation and, if needed, in-person representation to low-income clients on various civil legal matters — from divorce to insurance claims.
When Connelly decided it was time to retire in 2021, the Legal Clinic was shuttered for a few semesters. So, the main challenge was getting operational again. That led to the first-ever search for a new clinic director.
Hughes, a Lexington native and Duke University School of Law graduate, joined UK’s Rosenberg College of Law in June 2022 as director of legal clinics and externships and associate clinical professor. For her, the chance to return home and share her passion for justice with UK students was impossible to pass up.
Eight to 10 students each semester are challenged with interviewing clients, drafting legal documents, filing pleadings and conducting discovery. Whether students pursue a career in public interest law or private practice, UK’s Legal Clinic offers an exceptional introduction to the realities of legal practice and client representation.
The Legal Clinic’s mission has always been to deliver high-quality legal representation to clients while allowing law students to practice law and pursue justice with passion, empathy and integrity.
“During my 24 years as director, the Clinic opened thousands of cases without charging a single client a single penny,” Connelly said. “Every case the Clinic accepted became a major accomplishment for the student who handled that case and for the client that student represented.”
And for the students who participate in the clinic, the “real-world” experience is priceless.
Later this year, the Legal Clinic will hold a ceremony to celebrate 25 years of impacting Kentucky lives. Hughes hopes to expand the clinic’s work into new legal practice areas and further their impact throughout the Commonwealth while upholding the motto to “offer the best civil legal representation money can’t buy.”
“The greatest achievement in clinical education is, as always, seeing each student do excellent work on behalf of their clients,” Hughes said. “The clients receive free high-quality legal representation while the students learn the art and skill of being a zealous advocate. The Legal Clinic and the students providing its services profoundly impact the community. It doesn’t get much better than that for a clinical professor.”
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