Guided by its namesake’s commitment to public service, UofL’s Louis D. Brandeis School of Law is constantly seeking opportunities to support, grow and engage with the local community.

Having served for years as the alma mater for many of the lawyers based in Jefferson and the surrounding counties, the law school makes its mission to serve the broader Louisville community while also helping law students obtain the practical legal experience they need under the guidance and supervision of experts in the field.

In pursuit of these goals, the Brandeis School of Law built three robust law clinics in the past 15 years. The Ackerson Law Clinic, Entrepreneurship Clinic and Trager-Brandeis Elder Law Clinic have become integral parts of the school in the tradition of Brandeis, the Louisville native and former U.S. Supreme Court associate justice for whom the school is named.

The three clinics operate throughout the academic year and cater to community residents who need support in areas such as housing and family law, business startup and estate planning, but who do not have the means to hire private law firms. 

Expanding help across the community – Ackerson Law Clinic

Founded in 2009, the Robert and Sue Ellen Ackerson Law Clinic is the longest running of the law school’s clinics, and has helped more than 1,400 domestic violence victims to date. It was created to work with emergency protective order hearings, divorce actions and housing cases, with many clients referred from the Legal Aid Society of Louisville. In its 14 years, it has expanded to include a mediation clinic. Most recently, a new translation pilot program has been pioneered with UofL’s classical and modern languages department to serve even more members of the community.

Clinic Director Heend Sheth has been with the Ackerson Clinic since 2018, serving as interim director for two years before her recent appointment. She sees the value to local law firms in hiring students who served in the clinic.

“Each student goes through intense training and is in the courtroom as soon as possible. They are first-chair on their cases in a matter of three or four weeks. I can’t describe how helpful this experience is when you are a new lawyer; we are sending students into the workforce having had real trial experience. Most of our students practice between 10 and 15 cases per semester,” Sheth said. “It’s amazing.”

The Ackerson Clinic’s work gives vital support to people of all backgrounds in the local community; thus, the Interpretation and Translation Pilot program was set in motion this year. Third-year law student Jason Raff conceived the program to help the clinic include potential clients for whom English is a second language, while also supporting the development of language students.

Having previously worked with the Kentucky courts system as an interpreter, Raff’s experience came to mind when he came to Brandeis School of Law. “I felt the Ackerson Clinic had possible language needs that were going unmet,” Raff said. “When I had more contact with the clinic, the idea began to crystalize and take shape.”

Given its success in the first year, Sheth can see this project expanding. “I see a lot of opportunity for growth here, including adding the mediation clinic to the mix,” she said.

Helping startups with their start – Entrepreneurship Clinic

The Entrepreneurship Clinic was founded in 2012 to provide law students with experiential learning opportunities by offering legal support to the Entrepreneurship MBA program at UofL’s College of Business. Here, MBA students are the clients, and representing them takes many forms. Law students at the Entrepreneurship Clinic help frame articles of organization, operating agreements, independent contractor agreements and option agreements for technology while offering opinions of counsel. The clinic runs as a corporate department of a law firm might, with weekly firm meetings covering agreements, accounting, intellectual property, ethics, Food and Drug Administration approval and other topics.

Abi McFarland, a third-year law student, participated in the Entrepreneurship Clinic’s cohort this year to expand her knowledge of the field. “The Entrepreneurship Clinic was a great way to learn practical skills and network with experts in the community,” she said.

With the supervision of clinic directors Will Metcalf and Carlos Hernandez Ocampo, McFarland and her fellow students gained real-world experience. “We were able to apply principles from our doctrinal classes to client interactions with University of Louisville students,” McFarland said. She and her fellow students also receive support from other members of the law faculty and several local firms. Students in this clinic also meet with MBA professors to develop an understanding of their student clients’ ideation process.

McFarland is one of many who benefit from the opportunity to engage with the everyday problems they will encounter in the business field after graduation. She and eight other students worked with the Entrepreneurship Clinic in the past semester, totaling 78 students who have benefited from the clinic in the past five academic years.

Respecting elders with legal aid – Trager-Brandeis Elder Law Clinic

The law school recently developed the Trager-Brandeis Elder Law Clinic in conjunction with the UofL Trager Institute. Designed to meet two important needs, it supports law students through real-life interactions and experiences in the field of estate planning and provides valuable legal advice to those with limited access to resources and legal representation.

The Elder Law Clinic, hosted at the Trager Institute, opened its doors in 2021. The original concept was brought to fruition by Clinic Director Misty Vantrease, an experienced and well-regarded local elder law attorney. Under her supervision, the clinic successfully served 22 clients in just its first year and provided client-facing experiential training to 19 students.

Emily Monarch, co-director of the Elder Law Clinic, is enthusiastic about its mission. “The clinic provides each client with important end-of-life documents such as a durable power of attorney, health care surrogate designation, living will and last will and testament,” Monarch said. “Many clients would not otherwise have access to this service.”

Sydney Dazzo, a third-year law student, demonstrated the impact the clinic has on both the community and the students.

“In talking and working with the clients, it was clear that our efforts were making an impact in their lives as well. The clients I worked with were so appreciative to be getting their estate planning documents in order, Dazzo said. “Being able to help actual clients with their estate planning needs while still in school was a great feeling and has made me even more excited for my future legal career.”

Vantrease is ambitious about the clinic’s future. “As the clinic prepares to take on more clients, we have a dream of one day being a full-time, five days-a-week law clinic. With the support of the community and the University of Louisville, the little clinic that exists today is just the beginning,” she said.

The critical services that these clinics provide are immeasurable and grow with each year. As these programs continue to grow, so do their legacy, true to the school’s namesake and his commitment to public service.