South Texas College of Law Houston

Spring/Summer 2016 Clinics Highlights


Immigration Clinic

Sponsoring an onsite immigration clinic had long been on students’ wish lists. The clinic completed its second semester of operation with a full student enrollment and waiting list, two co-teaching faculty, and a full-time supervising attorney. In addition to their direct representation of clients, clinic students helped conduct workshops and informational sessions across the Greater Houston Community. Clinic staff, faculty, and students partnered with Catholic Charities for DACA (Deferred Action Childhood Arrival) workshops and with Neighborhood Centers and Boat People SOS for naturalization workshops.

During these outreach initiatives, students honed their skills in a range of lawyering tasks: providing legal information to the non-lawyer, giving brief advice and counsel, interviewing, and conducting intake. For the participating students, this field work also highlighted local conditions and the scope of unmet need. Illustrating this need was a Saturday workshop (staffed with four students, Clinic Staff Attorney Aimee Maldonado and doctrinal Professor Mark E. Steiner) which reached capacity and had to turn people away by 8:00 a.m. As a result, although the Immigration Clinic is not offered during the Summer Session, South Texas Law students continued to volunteer for outreach events through the law school’s pro bono program.

During the spring semester, students worked on a wide range of immigration matters: family-based claims, asylum adjustment of status, U-visa adjustment of status, and Special Immigrant Juvenile (SIJ) cases. Increasingly, student participation includes 3Ls planning a general civil practice. The Immigration Clinic worked closely with both the Family Law Clinic and the Veterans Clinic, mirroring the intersection of these doctrinal areas seen in contemporary legal practice.

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Asylum/Human Trafficking Clinic
Students, faculty, and clients had a busy and fruitful semester in the Asylum/Human Trafficking Clinic. In addition to interviewing and drafting, students represented clients before Immigration Court and United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), advocated on behalf of three survivors of human trafficking to the FBI, and engaged stakeholders ranging from the Human Trafficking Rescue Alliance and the Asylum Office to domestic violence shelters.

Professor Kristin Zipple-Shedd and her students filed numerous applications on behalf of survivors of various types of human rights violations. For example, the Clinic filed six asylum cases during the spring semester on behalf of clients fleeing persecution from many corners of the world including Africa, Central and South America, and the Middle East. Students represented clients with varying claims for asylum, including gender-based violence, political and religious persecution, and persecution based on sexual orientation. Additionally, the Clinic represented survivors of human trafficking that took the form of forced commercial sexual exploitation and forced labor in applications for T non-immigrant status.

During the semester, the Clinic achieved several successes before USCIS and the Immigration courts. In one case, USCIS granted asylum to a 12-year-old unaccompanied minor who sustained a stab wound and endured horrific violence perpetrated against him because his mother had years before escaped her trafficker. In another case, the Immigration Court granted asylum to a father and son pair who fled two decades of threats and violence in El Salvador targeted against the family in part because the father refused demands to share his military expertise with a gang. The entire class prepared a mock hearing to prepare these clients for their merits hearing, with students role-playing as the immigration judge, government attorneys, and even the court interpreter. In future semesters, Clinic students will pursue derivative claims for members of both families. The hope is that their qualifying family members will be able to travel legally to the United States to reunify with their families and live free of the horrific violence that makes members of both families fear for their lives on a daily basis.
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Veterans Clinic
During the spring, the Clinic expanded the scope of its veterans benefits claims and handled its first case for a survivor. The Clinic accepted this case based on client need and the legal challenge it presented because there was no available first-person witness. The Clinic also filed its first expunctions and orders on nondisclosure, which might serve some clients as a preamble to future discharge upgrades or characterization of service.

Each of the Clinic’s seven students participated in at least two outreach events working alongside South Texas Law faculty and the Clinic’s collaborative partner, the Veterans and Military Unit of Lone Star Legal Aid. The two entities work together under a United Way grant. As a result of this partnership and student involvement, the combined outreach meant that potential clients were not being turned away.

In May, Clinic Teaching Fellow Alec Lawton completed his three-year fellowship and transitioned to a full-time staff attorney position in the Veterans Clinic, funded by the Texas Access to Justice Foundation. The grant allows him to serve veterans exclusively. Over the summer, Lu Carlson worked as a full-time student intern under a program sponsored by the Texas Access to Justice Foundation.
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Family Law Clinics
Family Law Basic
Clinic Teaching Fellow Eric Kwartler brought his own stamp to the spring semester by implementing weekly 15-minute individual meetings with students, requiring reports from court observations, and adding a series of practice sessions and later simulations for both bench trials and witness preparation. Throughout the semester, students continued their direct representation of indigent clients seeking marriage dissolution with no significant property or children. Their representation involved interviewing, counseling, fact investigation, drafting, and oral advocacy at prove-ups.

Family Law Advanced
Professor Betty Luke’s Family Law Advanced Clinic remains a strong draw for students, particularly those in their final semesters who anticipate a private practice docket including family matters. Spring semester students were active in court presentations, mediation representation, and advanced fact investigation and drafting.
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Trademark and Patent Clinics
Representatives from the United States Patent and Trademark Office visited the Clinics during the spring. They presented to more than 50 students in a general luncheon setting and met in small groups with students in both Intellectual Property clinics.

The Trademark Clinic filed 16 applications from January through June, bringing its total filings to 92. The Clinic continues its popularity among students and faculty. Illustrating that commitment, Professor Page attended weekly classes in the spring despite being on sabbatical. Then over the summer, Adjunct Professor Shen and a group of students continued working on a handful of pending applications long after the spring semester ended. Students who do not anticipate having an IP practice continue to enroll in the Trademark Clinic for the complement it may provide to general corporate work.

The Patent Clinic typically attracts a smaller cohort of students intending to have an IP practice upon graduation. The Clinic added Adjunct Professor Tenley Krueger to the roster during the spring and filed one patent application under the law school certification program.
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Marshall-Brennan Constitutional Literacy Clinic
The second semester of this year-long program highlighted Moot Court rounds for high school students here in Houston and at the national competition in Washington, D.C. South Texas Law faculty, local attorneys, and jurists participated in the full-day Houston rounds with students from two area Yes Prep Academy campuses. The high school students and their clinic student teachers/coaches had spent the earlier portion of the semester honing advocacy skills and building on the constitutional principles covered each semester. Four students were selected to compete in Washington, D.C. in an exciting culmination for this inaugural year.

Domestic Violence Clinic
The clinic’s first international domestic violence client received her “green card” several years after prior students, working with Assistant Dean Liz Dennis, had helped prepare her application. During the spring, students observed local state court practices; drafted protective orders based on simulated offense reports and client interviews; interviewed international victims of domestic violence and identified case strategies; and reported on the experience of domestic violence in a range of smaller subsets of the general population. Public Interest Attorney Kimberly Ashworth hosted numerous local providers as speakers to illustrate the complexity of the issue in the local community and share information on the range of services available.

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Probate and Estate Planning Clinics
Both the Probate and Estate Planning Clinics exceeded targeted enrollment capacity for the spring. Student interest is matched by community need, and these two clinics receive more requests for services each semester than there are slots available. Adjunct Professor Emily Bohls continues to lead the Probate Clinic and to shape its vision and direction following her more than seven years with the law school as both a staff attorney and clinic teaching fellow. Students in the spring semester worked on a host of issues and case types in the post-death transfer of property arena, ranging from administration of estates to affidavits of heirship and muniment of title. Poverty law practitioners in the probate area encounter many barriers to representation, including decades of probate inactivity following the death of the real property title holder and the identification all potential heirs. Clinic students work under Professor Bohls’s supervision to close some of the probate access to justice gaps and identify solutions that fit client means and needs.

Students in the Estate Planning Clinic worked with Professor Betty Luke to hone their interviewing and drafting skills as they prepared and executed a range of end-of-life documents.
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