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MU Law School reboots justice clinic for low-income Missourians

A gavel is on a marble counter.
Tingey Injury Law Firm
The clinic is a new version of the school’s Family Violence Clinic, which closed in 2020.

The University of Missouri School of Law held a grand opening Friday for a clinic that provides legal assistance to low-income Missourians.

The Child and Family Justice Clinic’s goal is to assist Boone County residents who need help with domestic relations and family violence cases.

“Without an attorney, it just makes the process feel even more overwhelming, to the point where sometimes the thought process can be, ‘Why even try?’” said clinic director Danielle Dodd. “My goal with the clinic is that we can help those individuals figure out how to get to the next step.”

This clinic is a new version of the school’s Family Violence Clinic, which closed in 2020. The goal was to resume operations in January, according to previous Missourian reporting. School officials said about $400,000 of funding from Missouri legislators is what made the reopening possible.

The grand opening was an opportunity to network, get to know the program and meet the students involved, Dodd said.

“We’re serving a very similar population as the previous clinic did,” Dodd said, “but I wanted to ensure that our name really showed who we serve and what we’re doing.”

The clinic provides free services, excluding court fees and costs. Domestic violence, juvenile justice and family permanency are the three main areas the clinic wants to help with. These categories cover anything from adoptions to restraining orders.

The center started receiving clients in March. In the future, there will be 10 law school students chosen to practice at the clinic each semester. Students are allowed to advise clients, draft legal documents and appear in court, as they are Rule 13 certified.

“I have been basically certified by The Missouri Bar to practice law in certain limited circumstances under the supervision of a licensed attorney,” said Victoria Mantel, a third -ear law student working for the clinic.

Mantel said the practical experience she’s gained while working for the clinic is invaluable.

“Empowering and educating law students is a really big part of the goal because clinical experience is really important for students to learn how to actually practice the law,” Dodd said.

Just this week, an order of protection was granted for one of Mantel’s clients — something Mantel had been working toward since March.

“I was literally about to cry,” Mantel said. “I was just so happy because the relief that our client felt was palpable, and so was the joy of having helped her with this.”

In the future, the clinic hopes to expand its reach to other counties in the area.

The Columbia Missourian is a community news organization managed by professional editors and staffed by Missouri School of Journalism students who do the reporting, design, copy editing, information graphics, photography and multimedia.
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