Jan Sheldon retires after 44 years at KU

Jan Sheldon

Jan Sheldon, L’77, has advocated for people with disabilities and at-risk youth for more than four decades through research, teaching and service. Sheldon retired in December after a 44-year tenure at the University of Kansas.

“It’s been a wonderful career,” Sheldon said. “I couldn’t have asked for anything better than being able to teach. I’ve had so many incredible students over the years. It’s really nice to be able to get to know them, watch them grow and seeing the impact they make in the field.”

Sheldon taught in KU’s Department of Applied Behavioral Science for 44 years and at the University of Kansas School of Law as a courtesy professor for 40 years. At the law school, she taught Alternative Dispute Resolution and Juvenile Law.

“Once I started teaching, I just fell in love with it,” Sheldon said. “I always looked forward to learning, presenting new material and interacting with the students. I don’t think I could have asked for a better job.”

Sheldon, who grew up in Independence, is a four-time alumna of the University of Kansas. She holds undergraduate degrees in psychology as well as human development and family life from KU. Sheldon also earned an M.A., Ph.D. and J.D. at KU.

During law school, Sheldon served as articles editor of the Kansas Law Review and was a member of Order of the Coif.

She has published three books, 21 book chapters and more than 50 articles, which have influenced policy and practices. Her scholarship sought to advance the quality of life for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Jan Sheldon retired in December 2020 after a 44-year tenure at the University of Kansas. Photo courtesy of Jenna Sheldon-Sherman.

Sheldon has received numerous teaching and advising awards including the W.T. Kemper Fellowship for Teaching Excellence in 1998, the Steeples Service to Kansas Award in 2002 and the J. Michael Young Academic Advising Award in 2009. She was inducted into the KU Women’s Hall of Fame in 2017.

In addition to teaching, Sheldon has served as director of the Truancy Prevention and Diversion Program since 1978. The program aims at improving at-risk youth’s attendance in school. It is a joint initiative of KU’s Department of Applied Behavioral Science and the Douglas County Youth Services.

“It feels good knowing that I’ve made a difference with the kids,” Sheldon said.

In the Lawrence community, Sheldon helped found Community Living Opportunities (CLO). The organization provides support and resources to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Sheldon said that CLO serves about 500 people residentially. She also has served as the director of the Edna A. Hill Child Development Center.

Though she will miss her students, Sheldon is looking forward to spending more time with her family during retirement.

“My daughter lives right across the street with her two little boys, so we get to see them every day,” Sheldon said. “It’s really nice.”

— By Ashley Golledge

Through Difficulty

The KU Law community responds to a pandemic through work, service and community leadership

Mayors who have helped lead their city’s response. A legislative analyst who was deployed to share information about the virus in the early days of its U.S. impact. A legal aid attorney who managed a hotline answering questions about stimulus payments. These are just a few examples of the KU Law graduates who have devoted their time and work in recent months responding to COVID-19.

The coronavirus has brought about tragic loss and hardship as it has turned the world upside down. The KU Law community – students, faculty, staff and alumni – has responded to the to the virus through its work, service and community involvement.

The alumni stories highlighted in the following pages show some of the many way KU Law graduates have responded to a global event. KU lawyers working for access to justice organizations have seen an increase in the need for legal assistance in the communities they serve, as citizens navigate a web of new policies and financial challenges. Alumni serving as mayors have guided local government responses and kept residents of their cities informed. In the public health sector, government workers and a health care industry CEO have worked around the clock to guide agency responses, distribute information and support potential treatments.

This section also details how the School of Law has adapted over the past several months. From finishing the spring 2020 semester remotely, to launching new summer projects to meet community need, to preparing for the fall term, KU Law has shifted its operations to address the current challenges.

Stories:

— Stories by Ashley Golledge and Margaret Hair

This story originally appeared in the fall 2020 issue of the KU Law magazine.

Leading cities through crisis

Alumni mayors apply legal training to public service

Jennifer Ananda, L’10, started her one-year term as mayor of Lawrence in December 2019. Ananda said her legal education and social work training have helped her work through the city’s coronavirus response. Photo by Margaret Hair.

From the early days of the city’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Mayor Jennifer Ananda knew everyone in Lawrence, Kansas would need to work together.

The coordinated response started with a unified command of city, county, health department, education and other officials, Ananda said. It soon spread to residents coming together to ensure one another’s safety, she said.

“We had residents sewing masks, businesses making free lunches, non-profits offering rental assistance, the city offering services for those who need access to facilities and showers,” Ananda said. “These are no small feats, and our community showed up to do, and continue doing, what needs to be done.”

Ananda, L’10, is one of several KU Law alumni whose title of mayor has taken on new meaning in the past several months. Among the other KU lawyers serving as heads of local governments Sandra Kent, L’90, mayor pro tem of Richland, Washington; Eric Mikkelson, L’94, mayor of Prairie Village; David Waters, L’02, mayor of Westwood, Kansas; and Mike Kelly, L’11, mayor of Roeland Park, Kansas.

As the situation surrounding COVID-19 developed through the spring, Ananda said she found herself more frequently called on to act as a figurehead for the community. While the city government looked to health care professionals to drive research-based decision making, “people needed to hear from the mayor,” Ananda said.

“I quickly discovered that my job encompassed sharing information widely so that our community was informed,” she said.

Ananda was elected to the Lawrence City Commission in 2017 and started her one-year term as mayor in December 2019. Originally from Girard, Kansas, Ananda completed her undergraduate degree at KU and earned a joint J.D.-M.S.W. degree. In addition to her role as mayor, Ananda is the Title IX Coordinator for Emporia State University.

After years of being involved in activism and politics, Ananda said she knew she wanted to run for City Commission for several years before running. She took motivation from watching local leaders in action, as well as from a family history of public service.

“My father was a city employee of my hometown for most of my life. His work ethic and commitment to keeping our community safe as a fire chief sparked in me a sense of responsibility to give back to my community in a way that reflects my strengths,” Ananda said.

She said her legal training combined with her social work education have helped her navigate the situation by assessing information, identifying goals, planning accordingly, and keeping communication as an essential part of the process.

“To be able to balance information and the health-based needs of the community and offer grace and compassion has allowed me to effectively serve our community during a pandemic and a time of racial reckoning for our entire country,” she said.

Eric Mikkelson, L’94, front center, serves as mayor of Prairie Village, Kansas. He is pictured with city staff at Prairie Village‘s city hall building. Photo courtesy of Eric Mikkelson.
Pulling together to weather the storm

In Prairie Village, the city’s initial response involved declaring a local emergency and invoking local powers to enforce health orders, Mikkelson said. Eric Mikkelson has served on the Prairie Village city council since 2014 and was elected mayor in 2018.

“During those first weeks, we had to make multiple daily judgment calls to re-invent local government based on changing conditions, incomplete information, and mixed guidance from other sources,” Mikkelson said. As the weeks stretched on, some non-essential city services were suspended, portions of parks were closed, and essential city staffing went into rotations. Each decision came with necessary coordination with neighboring governments, as well as messaging to residents, Mikkelson said.

“We always cooperate with area agencies, but this pandemic required coordination on a level not seen before for health issues. We forged new relationships across the Kansas City metropolitan area to combat this virus together,” he said.

Originally from Lawrence, Mikkelson earned his bachelor’s degree from Stanford University and returned to his home state for law school. He got involved in local government after advocating for more parkland, pedestrian and bicycle routes in Prairie Village, he said. He also served as a municipal judge for the City of Leavenworth from 1996-1997.

Mikkelson said his law background – along with an undergraduate degree in human biology – made it possible to process decisions that were “fraught with legal, health and other peril.” Legal training was helpful in “determining the facts, analyzing the relevant ones, consulting experts, researching legal precedent where it existed, and distilling all of that to create viable new laws and policy to meet the unique challenges,” he said.

“It helped us navigate to get to the best solution more quickly,” Mikkelson said.

Mikkelson is a partner in the corporate finance division of Stinson LLP’s Kansas City office. He also is a lecturer at KU Law. As the demands of his government work have increased, Mikkelson said he has become “a more efficient supervising team leader at the law firm.” When the Mergers & Acquisitions course he teaches at KU Law went online last spring, he adapted the course to teach live via Zoom.

In his law practice, teaching and government service, Mikkelson has found having a strong team has been essential to navigating crisis. That has held true in Prairie Village, where the staff, Council and community are pulling together to weather the storm, Mikkelson said.

“We drew on deep civic wells of resilience, compassion and community amongst our residents to confidently reaffirm who we are,” he said. “Those re-affirmed character traits will continue to guide us through these challenges to a brighter future together.”

— By Margaret Hair

This story originally appeared in the fall 2020 issue of the KU Law magazine.

Happiest Holidays from KU Law

As the fall 2020 semester comes to a close, we’d like to take a moment to wish you a happy holiday season.

We hope you enjoy the inaugural – and perhaps only – edition of the Kansas Journal of Confections & Winter Pastries. This new (fictional) publication features a lead article by Stephen W. Mazza, University of Kansas School of Law, titled, The Pecan Pie: Responding to Issues of Crust Burn and Filling Ooze.

From all of us at the KU School of Law, have a wonderful, safe and joyful holiday season.

Dean Stephen Mazza
& the KU Law family

Access to Justice organizations respond to pandemic

KU Law alumni address increased legal needs of low-income Americans

Kansas Legal Services’ Executive Director Marilyn Harp, L’79, is pictured at Green Hall. Photo by Ashley Golledge.

Legal aid organizations across the nation provided legal assistance to low-income individuals and promoted equal access to justice throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

The organizations continued to provide legal aid services after stay-at-home orders went into effect, courts were closed to non-emergency proceedings and laws were adapted to address the pandemic.

KU Law alumni who work at access to justice organizations assisted clients with a wide range of legal concerns related matters including child support, evictions, IRS/stimulus checks, housing issues and unemployment compensation.

Matthew Keenan, L’84
Funding legal aid organizations 

Matthew Keenan, L’84, serves on the board of directors of the Legal Services Corporation (LSC), which is based in Washington, D.C. LSC is the single largest provider of civil legal assistance for low-income Americans. Keenan was nominated to his position in May 2019 by President Donald Trump and confirmed by the Senate three months later.

“Nothing brings happiness to an attorney more than helping someone who needs a helping hand,” Keenan said. “Legal Services Corporation, and their grantees like Kansas Legal Services, are the change agent for literally millions of our fellow residents.”

Keenan is also a partner at Shook, Hardy & Bacon, where he has practiced for 35 years primarily focusing on the defense of pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturers.

When the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act passed in March, LSC received $50 million in emergency funding to address the increased legal needs of low-income Americans because of the pandemic. The funds were distributed among 132 organizations across the nation for COVID-related services and technology upgrades to allow for remote work.

“Local LSC-funded legal aid organizations have reported a significant uptick in COVID-related issues ranging from evictions, foreclosures, unemployment assistance and appeals, consumer debt and income maintenance,” Keenan said.

LSC requested another $50 million from Congress in April and it was included in the Heroes Act passed by the House.

Serving Kansans in need

Kansas Legal Services (KLS) Executive Director Marilyn Harp, L’79, said KLS has seen a 10% increase in the number of applications for legal assistance due to the pandemic. Harp has worked at KLS for 41 years and has served as its executive director for the past 14 years.

“I am crisis management-oriented. So, trying to figure out how to move employees home; meet client needs; and close and reopen offices perfectly suited me,” Harp said.

KLS is a non-profit organization with 12 offices statewide that provide legal services to low income Kansans. Harp and her staff broaden access to justice to 30,000 Kansans each year. This year’s increase translates to about 3,000 additional Kansans who sought legal assistance.

KLS hired eight law students to help with the increased volume of clients. Katie DeVito Erhart, L’20; 3L Harrison Baker; and 2L Natasha Richartz assisted applicants on various legal matters this past summer.

Harp thinks access to lawyers and the court will change permanently due to COVID-19.

“I believe lawyers who are in court regularly have learned how to use their camera and computer. I think it’s going to change things remarkably,” Harp said. “After we get through this, I see the world changing.”

Katy Kettler, L’19
Providing legal assistance through hotline

Katy Kettler, L’19, has helped manage a hotline for people to call with questions related to the Internal Revenue Service’s Economic Impact Payment. The one-time payment, which is also referred to as the stimulus check, provided up to $1,200 to eligible recipients.

“It is clear that people who are struggling are really depending on this check to help them get through the pandemic and not receiving it in a timely manner or at all has created more stress for people,” Kettler said.

Kettler is a staff attorney at the Legal Aid of Western Missouri’s (LAWMO) central Kansas City office. LAWMO has five offices, which serve residents in 40 Missouri counties.

Kettler works within LAWMO’s Consumer Protection Unit, which runs the hotline. More than 1,100 individuals nationwide have used LAWMO’s hotline since its creation in May.

“We are able to answer people’s questions on the stimulus check and can give guidance on what someone needs to do to claim their check or why we think they haven’t received it yet,” Kettler said.

Alison Paul, L’91
Offering assistance remotely

Montana Legal Services Association (MLSA) Executive Director Alison Paul, L’91, transitioned the MLSA to work remotely within three days of the onset of the pandemic in March. Paul has worked at MLSA for 21 years and has served as its executive director for nine years.

MLSA is headquartered in Helena, Montana. Because the MLSA’s three public offices serve a large and mostly rural state, the staff had prior experience at delivering legal services remotely. 

“After a few bumps, we created a fully functioning remotely accessed phone system so that we could continue to answer our helpline and provide legal information and advice to the many Montanans who need our help,” Paul said.

In recent months, MLSA focused on increasing its social media presence and the amount of information available on its website to address emerging legal issues related to COVID-19. MLSA’s website saw a 62% increase in web traffic.

Paul also created policies to take better care of her staff during a stressful time, which includes a wellness leave option and a reduced work week of 32 hours.

“While it has been extra challenging to address a pandemic and required many long hours, it has been rewarding to be able to have a career that allows me to give back to people in need,” Paul said.

— By Ashley Golledge

This story originally appeared in the fall 2020 issue of the KU Law magazine.

Navigating public health policy

Alumni step up to minimize the spread of COVID-19

Bhavi Shah, L’00, works at Vitalant, the largest independent national blood service provider. Photo by Courtney Griggs.

University of Kansas School of Law alumni are navigating public health policy in their workplaces to help minimize the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic and direct their teams toward new solutions.

Alumni stepped up during a time of rapid change and uncertainty to tackle challenges that their communities faced. Jayhawks advised government entities on legal principles and evaluated the impact of legislation on public health outcomes. Alumni have also provided rapid response to public health needs and taken protective measures to maintain workplace operations safely.

“As COVID-19 continues to challenge our nation’s health care and public health systems, there is a critical need for attorneys who are familiar with the legal considerations underlying federal, state and local disease control practices,” said Ryan Cramer, L’10.

Ryan Cramer, L’10

Cramer is a health policy analyst at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta. From April to June, Cramer served on the CDC’s Community Intervention Task Force (CITF). The CITF provides guidance and technical assistance to communities as well as state and local governments regarding COVID-19 mitigation measures in community settings. 

Through his role with CITF, Cramer responded to inquiries from legislators regarding the CDC’s response; managed intergovernmental partnerships; and led a team that collected and analyzed state laws regarding mitigation measures to evaluate their impact on COVID-19 prevention efforts. 

“I have been lucky enough to have the opportunity to work on the CDC’s COVID-19 response in a number of roles that correspond with the priorities of state and local governments as they respond to the pandemic,” Cramer said.

Cramer is also the Deputy Lead of the CDC’s Contact Tracing Program Support Team. He joined the team to help meet the demand for law-related technical assistance that is being asked of the CDC’s response to COVID-19, he said. Cramer’s work with the CDC Division of Sexually Transmitted Disease Prevention gave him a background in the key principles of contact tracing.

Analyzing legislation to support health care workers
Trinia Cain, L’09

Trinia Cain, L’09, also provides technical assistance on drafting public health legislation. Cain utilizes her legal background to examine and analyze legislation that effects the health workforce.

She is a senior legislative analyst at the Health Resources and Services Administration, which is an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in North Bethesda, Maryland.

Previously, Cain was a fellow in the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Health Policy Program from 2018-2019. The program is one of the nation’s most prestigious learning experiences at the nexus of health, science and policy.

Cain is also a commissioned corps officer in the U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS). Since February, Cain has been deployed twice to help respond to the pandemic. Cain was deployed to the HHS Secretary’s Operations Center in Washington, D.C., where she managed information requests related to COVID-19 to local, state, federal, national and international governments.

“Our job was to make sure that the public got the best information that we had at the time,” Cain said.

When the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was signed into law in March, the USPHS began to re-establish and mobilize a Ready Reserve Corps. The Ready Reserve Corps will accept applications this fall and commission its first officers in spring 2021.

During her second deployment, Cain assessed and drafted policies that were instrumental in preparing and training the Ready Reserve Corps for domestic and global response efforts.

“It has been a really big undertaking to build a component of uniformed service from the ground up,” Cain said. “My part was making sure that all of the policies that we needed were in place in order to get people who were fit for service in the door, ready to serve and ready to start training. That was really exciting.”

Making decisions about life-saving treatments
Bhavi Shah, L’00

During the pandemic, Bhavi Shah has joined response efforts. Shah, L’00, serves as executive vice president, general counsel and chief legal officer at Vitalant, the largest independent national blood service provider which is headquartered in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Shah provides oversight for legal, risk management and corporate compliance for four operations: Vitalant, Vitalant Research Institute, Creative Testing Solutions and BioCare. In her various roles, Shah navigates the best ways to protect the workforce, develop life-saving treatments, follow government restrictions and recruit volunteers to donate blood.

Shah said Vitalant quickly established efforts to collect a life-saving investigational treatment known as COVID-19 convalescent plasma. The first unit was distributed on April 8. 

“People who have recovered from COVID-19 typically develop SARS-CoV-2 antibodies and their plasma can be safely transfused into severely affected COVID patients as part of an FDA-approved investigational treatment, which has shown tremendous promise to reduce symptom severity and mortality rates,” Shah explained.

Vitalant’s joint venture Creative Testing Solutions also initiated SARS-CoV-2 antibody testing, which has helped the industry identify additional donors of this promising treatment.

Shah has been a critical and strategic voice in informing daily operational decisions at Vitalant to continue to provide life-transforming blood products while maintaining donor and staff safety.

“While the work demands have been extraordinary during the pandemic, I am extremely proud to work for organizations actively involved in the fight against COVID-19,” Shah said.

— By Ashley Golledge

This story originally appeared in the fall 2020 issue of the KU Law magazine.

KU Law adapts to a pandemic

Changes to instruction, summer experiences and operations

Large classes, including this section of Civil Procedure, are meeting at the Burge Union this semester. Physcial distancing guidelines reduced capacity of classrooms in Green Hall. Photo by Margaret Hair.

Over a few weeks in March, colleges and universities across the country moved their classes, students, faculty – everything – from on-campus to online. It was the beginning of a shift that continues this fall, as schools adapt to educate students amid a global pandemic.

At the University of Kansas School of Law, students, faculty and staff have adapted everything from classroom layouts to course schedules in the past several months. The changes have included remote classes, adjustments to summer programs, and reduced capacity in Green Hall.

“Our faculty and students have worked together since March to change how we teach and learn the law,” said Stephen Mazza, dean and professor of law. “We’ve had to be flexible about our policies, class formats and building procedures. This has been a time of quick and frequent change. I have been encouraged by the law school community’s resilience and adaptability through everything.”

Going remote

On March 11, KU announced it would delay the resumption of in-person classes until March 23, adding a second week to Spring Break. On March 17, the university announced online instruction would continue for the rest of the spring semester. Faculty adapted their courses for an online format, pre-recording lectures and planning to host live class sessions via Zoom.

“The students and faculty alike really rose to the occasion in spring 2020 when presented with the need to shift all courses fully online with little notice,” said Uma Outka, associate dean for faculty. “The university and law school tech services gave excellent support. Most important to all of us was that students were still able to learn despite the big change.”

The law school temporarily changed several academic policies to accommodate changes to the learning environment, financial challenges and personal circumstances. On March 30, Dean Stephen Mazza announced a revised grading policy for the semester. Students received either satisfactory or unsatisfactory grades for spring 2020 courses.

“It was clear that many students faced pressures and challenges that did not exist before the move to online classes and the course of schools and businesses,” Mazza said. “Because those hardships were distributed randomly and unequally across the student body, there was a significant likely that a student’s grade during the spring semester would not reflect that student’s abilities under normal circumstances.”

The school also suspended GPA requirements for students to maintain scholarships through the end of the fall 2020 semester. Most scholarships at the School of Law normally require students to maintain a 3.0 minimum cumulative GPA beginning at the end of the student’s first year. Temporarily removing that requirement resulted in an estimated $250,000 increase in scholarship allocations. 

By early April, University Commencement was canceled, summer courses moved online, and campus buildings closed.

Meeting needs through summer experiences

As the spring semester ended, the law school’s Career Services Office worked with a team of faculty members to ensure upper-level students would have summer legal experiences. KU Law offered five programs over the summer, including:

Heather Spielmaker, assistant dean of career services, said the multi-pronged approach allowed as many students as possible to expand their legal skill sets. The program created nearly 100 opportunities, including 34 research assistants filling 40 positions; nine Advance Care Planning Clinic workers; six Legal Corps interns; and 42 public interest stipend recipients.

“The Career Services Office at KU Law strives to ensure that all students have the chance to gain legal skills over the summer,” Spielmaker said. “This program helped us achieve our goal.”

The KU Law Legal Corps paired students with pro bono opportunities with regional nonprofit and government agencies, as well as internships with Kansas Legal Services. Two students conducted legal research for the Willow Domestic Violence Center and Douglas County CASA. Another helped complete a community legal ­needs assessment for Legal Aid of Western Missouri.

Through the Legal Corps, second-year law student Natasha Veenis interned with Kansas Legal Services in its Wichita office. Her work focused on domestic, family, juvenile, adoption and social security legal issues.

“Before this summer, I was not sure what type of law I wanted to practice,” Veenis said. “This internship revealed to me that my passion rests in advocating for those who feel voiceless and striving to give them the justice they deserve.”

Adjusting for the new academic year

Faculty and staff spent the summer preparing for the fall semester, in coordination with the university’s Protect KU plan. Faculty chose whether to offer their courses in the classroom or online, and students with health and safety concerns had the option to attend classes remotely.  

Of the law school’s 63 courses this semester, about 40% are being taught in person, 40% online and 20% in a hybrid format, as of early October. Required courses with larger enrollments, such as Civil Procedure and Criminal Law, are divided into cohorts that split their time between attending class in Green Hall and participating virtually.

Signs promoting physical distancing mark staircases, elevators and common spaces in the building. Classroom seats have been rearranged, with the largest lecture space capacity going from more than 100 students down to 33. There are hand sanitizing and disinfecting supplies throughout the building, and masks are required on campus.

Student groups host their meetings and events online. Some activities have moved to the Green Hall lawn, following social distancing and mask guidelines. The law school continues to host lecture events, including the first-ever virtual edition of the Kansas Law Review Symposium in October.   

Fall classes will end on Nov. 24, just before the Thanksgiving Break. Students will have a study week before the final exam period in December.

Looking ahead

Plans are underway for the spring semester. Classes will begin on Jan. 25 and run through April 23, with exams in early May. The spring semester schedule includes a mix of in-person, hybrid and remote courses, following the same physical distancing guidelines in place this fall.

“We recognize circumstances could change again as we make plans for the spring and beyond,” Mazza said. “With that in mind, we are taking the lessons we learned this fall and applying them to next semester, keeping the safety of our KU Law community at the center of our decisions.”

For current updates about KU Law operations, visit law.ku.edu/updates.

— By Margaret Hair

This story originally appeared in the fall 2020 issue of the KU Law magazine.

From Green Hall to City Hall

Mayor Quinton Lucas balances roles as law lecturer and Kansas City leader during pandemic

Photo by Fengxue Zhang / KCMO Mayor’s Office.

This spring, students at the University of Kansas School of Law had the unique opportunity to learn Local Government Law from the current mayor of a nearby metropolitan city. Quinton Lucas is the mayor of Kansas City, Missouri and a lecturer at KU Law. Lucas has served on the KU Law faculty since 2012.

“Getting to share your voice and your mission with people is one of the most amazing things you can ever do in life,” Lucas said. “I get the double honor of doing it both as mayor of an outstanding city, but also as a KU Law professor.”

Lucas’ class shifted from meeting in-person to online in March, but continued to have important conversations about what actions governments were taking in both Kansas City and across the nation. Lucas and his law students discussed topics such as when it is appropriate to declare a state of emergency, how to implement a stay-at-home order and when to begin easing out of an order.

“The pandemic is such an urgent and relevant example of local government’s responsibilities and limits during times of national crisis,” Lucas said. “The concepts I wanted my students to understand became applicable in real-time, and I think the students enjoyed talking through what has become an unprecedented and chaotic time in our nation’s history.” 

Lucas was sworn in as the 55th mayor of Kansas City on August 1, 2019. At 36, Lucas is the city’s youngest mayor in more than a century. He is third Black mayor in the city’s history after Sly James and Emanuel Cleaver. Before his tenure in city government, Lucas served at KU as one of the youngest tenure-track law professors in the country.

While a full-time faculty member at KU, Lucas taught Contracts, Securities Regulation and Federal Administrative Law. In his newer role as law lecturer, Lucas is still willing to assist KU Law students — both in the classroom and in the mayor’s office. Third-year law student Conner Swanton worked on Lucas’ campaign and has served as a policy fellow in Lucas’ office for the past year.

Third-year law student Delaney Hiegert served as a policy fellow in Lucas’ office last fall.

“I never imagined I would have had the opportunity to immerse myself in local government to this extent while in law school,” Hiegert said. “I think that KU Law students are lucky to have the ability to pursue those experiences, both in Mayor Lucas’ office and in his Local Government Law class. Having a KU lecturer hold a public office at this level helps to open students’ eyes to the possibilities of public service work that they may not have known existed.”

Lucas said he finds balance in his roles as mayor and law lecturer by bringing the same passion for community, change and progress to both City Hall and Green Hall. 

“We are lucky to have Quinton continue his relationship with the KU law school even though his plate is very full. He is a great law school citizen who is dedicated to his students and their success,” Dean Stephen Mazza said. “When he gets elected president, we’ll just have him teach remotely.”

Rising to the COVID-19 challenge

Eight months into his first year as mayor, Lucas rose to the challenge of leading a metropolitan city during a global pandemic.

In addition to being mayor of Kansas City, Quinton Lucas teaches Local Government Law at KU. He is pictured here in the Rice Room at Green Hall in February. Photo by Brooke Boyer / KU School of Journalism.

“My days changed from giving speeches in big ballrooms and meeting about development projects to meeting with first responders; looking at data; thinking about deaths; and trying to find ways to cure and solve violence in our community,” Lucas said.

Lucas has done impactful work to protect the health and safety of Kansas City residents as well as to help stop the spread of COVID-19. He drafted a stay at home order that ended up being a model for the entire metropolitan area; wrote ordinances relating both to violent crime and COVID-19; and collaborated with federal, state and local government officials.

Lucas said he keeps his law students in mind when making big decisions, such as pandemic-related school closures and event cancellations.

“I thought about the changes my students at KU were having in their lives, and the impact that these sorts of decisions may make,” Lucas said. “When I thought about events being canceled – which is something that we did – I thought about my KU Law students that might be engaged and planning a wedding, or my law students that want that joy of having a walk down the Hill with their parents.”

He is optimistic about both KU and Kansas City’s ability to navigate a global pandemic through adaptability and prioritization of public health.

“We’ll all get through this. We have a resilient community in a resilient region,” Lucas said. “We all know it’s a tough time, but this country and KU have been through a lot before.”

Kansas City roots

Lucas grew up on the east side of Kansas City. He rose from poverty and homelessness to become an Ivy League-educated lawyer and mayor leading a city of nearly 500,000 people.

Lucas said his background informs his work as mayor and understanding of the challenges that constituents face due to the pandemic.

“My job as mayor certainly became more demanding and urgent, but I decided that it was important to make time to have conversations with both my students and constituents about the power and limits of government,” Lucas said.

He earned an A.B. from Washington University in 2006 and a J.D. from Cornell University in 2009. After law school, he served as a law clerk to the Hon. Duane Benton of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.

Judge Benton encouraged Lucas to pursue public service in Lucas’ home state of Missouri. Lucas worked in private practice for a few years and taught a Constitutional Law course at the Lansing Correctional Facility.

In 2012, he entered academia. He considers teaching to be, “in many ways my first love.”

“Like any professor who has come to KU Law, you get bit by that bug of education, academia, learning, and service to the people of Kansas and to our broader community in this region,” Lucas said. “I’ve enjoyed being part of it ever since.”

During his time as mayor and beyond, Lucas said he plans to keep shaping the minds of Jayhawk lawyers.

“I’ve been very proud of KU, and I’ve been lucky to be a part of the KU Law community,” Lucas said. “I’m 36 years old now. I hope I get to be 75 and walking into a KU classroom. I hope I have a chance to do this decades in the future.”

— By Ashley Golledge

This story originally appeared in the fall 2020 issue of the KU Law magazine.

Seven things I wish I knew before law school

Photo by Ashley Golledge

As a first–generation law student, my only knowledge on law school stemmed from movies and my favorite show, How to Get Away With Murder. I was hit with a strikingly different experience as soon as I walked into Green Hall. Law school is an unfamiliar and intimidating experience, especially when you don’t come from a family of lawyers. Here are seven things that I wish I knew before law school.

1. Network!

I never had a professional job before law school and didn’t know any lawyers. Once I started law school, everyone told me to build my network. I went to happy hours with firms, career fairs, professionalism meetings, and mock interviews – all of which were organized by KU and the Career Services Office. These events helped me build my network. I also learned that my classmates and professors would be my colleagues throughout and after law school. That being said, keep a good relationship with your peers and professors. These people will work with you in the future, refer clients to you, and maybe even help you get a job.

2. You will make friends.

You will find your people in law school. Your classmates will be the only people who truly understand what you are going through and the friendship you form will be essential to maintaining sanity in law school. KU has small sections, which means that I had all of my 1L classes with a group of 22 students. You’ll inevitably become close friends with people from your section. If you ever miss class or need help with anything, ask peers from your section.

3. It is okay to be confused.

There are numerous moments where you feel lost in law school. Moments where going into office hours makes you even more confused on a topic that you were already so lost on. I wish I knew that that was a totally normal and common experience during my 1L year. There were many moments where my imposter syndrome kicked in, and I felt like I was alone in my confusion. I came to realize that most of us were confused on the same topics.

4. Television shows are inaccurate.

This one seems obvious, but so many of my non–law school friends think my everyday life is like the shows and movies they watch. Law school is so different from glamorized television shows. Although the competition and personality depictions aren’t too far off from reality, law school in reality is a lot involves less cute outfits, less courtroom drama, and less students involved in covering up murder, haha.

5. Don’t compare yourself to others.

It is intuitive to compare yourself to classmates. I advise that you not compare yourself to any anyone. We come from different places, have different goals and have different personal lives. We have our own study habits, routines and things we know that work for us. It is essential to remind yourself that nobody knows you better than yourself. Focus on your goals and remind yourself that you know best how to succeed.

6. You will write a lot.

I didn’t expect to spend so much time writing in law school. I also didn’t expect to struggle with legal writing during my first semester. I was good at writing most of my life, but the transition to legal writing was tough. The CRAC / IRAC structure is something that is hard at first, but once you figure it out, it’s not too bad. Be patient and spend time improving your legal writing skills. One thing I hear from attorneys is that the best lawyers are ones that write exceptionally well.

7. Take time for yourself.

I remember feeling guilty for taking time off from school during my first semester of law school. This guilt kept me up at night, and I only dreamt about school–related things. I wish I spent more time on myself and away from school during my first year. It is important to stay focused and spend time on school, but it is just as important to spend time with your family and friends and to take mental breaks from school.

— By Sim Johal, a 2L from Springfield, Missouri and a KU Law Student Ambassador.

Students contribute pro bono hours to clemency project

Nine students at the University of Kansas School of Law are assisting with the ACLU of Kansas’ Clemency Project this semester. The project seeks to secure the release of Kansas prisoners who are medically vulnerable or have completed most of their sentence.

Sharon Brett, senior staff attorney at the ACLU of Kansas, is supervising students’ pro bono work on the project. Brett is also an adjunct faculty member at KU Law, teaching Social Justice Lawyering this fall. She said the idea to involve KU Law students in the project was driven by student interest in the work and by the project’s goal to increase capacity.

Sharon Brett
Sharon Brett, senior staff attorney at the ACLU of Kansas and lecturer at KU Law, is supervising students’ pro bono work on the project. Photo courtesy of Sharon Brett.

“There was this very obvious, untapped person power at the law school of students who were incredibly interested in this area of the law, and in doing good work to help people who are really vulnerable right now in our state’s prisons,” Brett said.

Participating students contribute to individual applications for clemency or functional incapacitation release. So far this semester, KU Law students have helped complete 18 petitions.

The process starts with interviewing family members to gather information on the individual’s background and achievements, release plans, medical conditions and other details. After interviewing family members, students write up a narrative history – or “Reasons for Seeking Clemency” statement – that is attached to the individual’s clemency petition. Those petitions go to the Kansas Department of Corrections Prisoner Review Board before going on to Gov. Laura Kelly.

Students started remote work on the project in early September, following comprehensive training sessions with ACLU attorneys and staff. Each student is expected to complete at least 10 pro bono hours for the project, Brett said.

Third-year law student Sidney Billings said she jumped at the opportunity to get involved. Since September, she has worked on four petitions for the Clemency Project. Billings is also enrolled in Brett’s Social Justice Lawyering class.

Sidney Billings
3L Sidney Billings is one of nine KU students contributing pro bono work to the ACLU of Kansas Clemency Project this semester. Photo by Ashley Golledge.

“I wanted to get involved because my heart goes out to prisoners during this pandemic,” Billings said. “The pandemic has changed everyone’s lives, but for prisoners, it has made their world even smaller and more dangerous. I wanted to help in any way I could.”

Compiling an application can be time-consuming and require multiple follow-up conversations with an incarcerated individual’s family members, said Esmie Tseng, a legal assistant with the ACLU of Kansas who is overseeing student pro bono work on the project. Students collect information through phone and email conversations, then “put together a statement that really tells the story of the person who we’re applying for,” Tseng said.

Conducting extensive client interviews and writing narrative histories offers the participating students real-world legal experience, Brett said.

“The students are getting hands-on experience interviewing the families of people who are currently incarcerated, so it’s really amazing client interview experience for them,” Brett said.

Billings said she has developed her writing skills through the project. After collecting details from the client’s family, Billings writes a narrative that “describes the individual’s COVID experiences, fears, and progress in prison before the pandemic,” she said.

“Telling someone else’s experience is a unique kind of writing that I hadn’t been able to practice before in law school. At times it feels awkward and challenging, but I am grateful for the opportunity to work on this form of advocacy,” Billings said.

KU Law students completed more than 2,500 hours of pro bono service during the 2019-20 academic year. More information about the school’s Pro Bono Program is available at law.ku.edu/pro-bono-program.

— By Margaret Hair