A donation of $4 million to SMU’s Dedman School of Law will endow the new VanSickle Family Law Clinic to provide free legal help for Dallas-area residents as well as essential skills training for Dedman Law students.
The donor whose gift is funding the VanSickle Family Law Clinic has requested anonymity.
The clinic, expected to open in fall 2015, will provide legal assistance for low-income North Texas residents in matters such as divorce, annulment, paternity actions, custody and visitation, child and spousal support.
“SMU’s Dedman School of Law is proud to be able to offer vital family legal services to people who might not otherwise be able to afford them,” said President R. Gerald Turner. “This important clinic experience will be invaluable to the lawyers we graduate who go on to practice family law, and will provide all participating students with a heightened sensitivity about the human impact and challenges of family legal issues.”
The new clinic will place students in professional situations in which they are required to put classroom theory into practice. Students enrolled in the clinic will learn by representing clients and engaging in a variety of tasks, such as:
- Interviewing and counseling
- Conducting factual investigations and legal research
- Preparing court documents
- Negotiating property settlement agreements for divorce actions
- Negotiating custody agreements
- Advocating at conferences, hearings, and trials
An academic director will train and closely supervise eight-10 student attorneys each semester who will represent families through the VanSickle Family Law Clinic. The director will meet regularly with each student attorney throughout the semester and will accompany the student to all court appearances and major settlement negotiations. During the summer, the clinic director will continue to represent clients whose matters extend past the end of the academic year.
“Our clinical education program at the Dedman School of Law is central to our mission of providing outstanding legal education as well as service to the community,” said Julie Forrester, law dean ad interim. “Beginning in 1947, the Clinical Program at the Dedman School of Law was among the country’s first to sponsor a community legal clinic. The VanSickle Family Law Clinic will be a significant enhancement to the clinic program, providing outstanding service to its clients while also providing our students with practical experience and encouraging in them a commitment to public service.”
The gift to fund the VanSickle Family Law Clinic counts toward the $1 billion goal of SMU Unbridled: The Second Century Campaign, which to date has raised $874 million to support student quality, faculty and academic excellence and the campus experience. The campaign coincides with SMU’s celebration of the 100th anniversary of the University’s founding in 1911 and its opening in 1915.