Student finds path to LGBT advocacy through KU Law

Jake McMillian

Jake McMillian didn’t think Kansas was a progressive enough place to launch his career, but KU Law proved him wrong. Now, with a year of law school under his belt, he’s working and advocating for LGBT rights in Kansas City and has realized the importance of serving his own state.

“As I have watched the snowball of equality build rapidly in more progressive states, I have come to an important realization: As a lifelong citizen of Kansas, I owe a unique duty to the place that reared me,” he said. “Frankly, California already has enough advocates of its own, and Kansas remains in desperate need of talented and dedicated LGBT attorneys.”

This summer, McMillian interned with Hodges-Williams LLC, the only law firm in the Kansas City metro area with a specific focus on LGBT advocacy. As a native of Kansas City, Kan., and a graduate of nearby Ottawa University, McMillian was ready to move out of state for law school and pursue his goal of representing LGBT clients. But after applying to schools across the country and placing a seat deposit at a university in California, he realized it was possible to follow his dreams closer to home.

“Dean Freedman spent a great deal of energy telling me about the opportunities that would be available to me at KU, and ultimately convinced me to stay in my native Kansas for a bit longer,” he said. “It is a decision that I have never once regretted.”

After McMillian connected with Elizabeth Hodges-Williams, the founder and managing attorney at the firm where he interned, he accepted a position for the summer. From the beginning, he dove headfirst into challenging work that made a real impact in the community. He wrote memos, drafted briefs, spoke with clients, and even attended hearings. McMillian also worked on a defamation case against a multinational retailer, and every day in the office was different.

“Working with Elizabeth has been great because she feels comfortable letting me get my hands dirty and do important work – to be sure, I am not just a file clerk or a secretary,” he said. “Elizabeth and I both feel worthy of the challenges that await us in our home state and are committed to full LGBT equality in Kansas.”

With a shared drive to make a difference, McMillian and Hodges-Williams make a perfect team. And although McMillian has only worked at the firm for a short time, Hodges-Williams is already impressed with his work ethic and determination.

“I believe a strong sense of right and wrong is the most important attribute a person can possess and it is very important in the practice of law,” she said. “Jake has it and that was one of the first things I noticed about him. He also has passion for the client we are representing and that translates into a hardworking, go-getter attitude.”

McMillian, in turn, credits his success to the education he has received so far at KU Law – an education that almost didn’t materialize, but one that has sparked new opportunities in his home state.

“For so many reasons, I feel like KU has prepared me both for my work this summer and for the career I see myself in as a practicing attorney,” he said. “I couldn’t be more excited to see the direction that a KU degree will take me and the kinds of change that will be capable once I graduate.”

— Story by Sarah Shebek. McMillian is beginning his second year at KU Law, where he serves as a Student Ambassador. You can read more about him on his Student Ambassador Web page.