When University of Richmond law professor John Carroll passed away suddenly this past March, the fate of the legal clinic he founded hung in the balance.
With only five weeks left in the semester, the eight law students involved in the Intellectual Property and Transactional Law Clinic were left without a leader to oversee their work with clients.
That is, until a local law firm stepped in, determined to see the program’s students and clients through to the end of the semester.
“This was a crisis that no one could have anticipated,” said Phyllis Katz, an attorney with the Richmond office of Sands Anderson. It was a situation where the law school needed help, and Katz saw it as an opportunity to pitch in.
She approached Associate Dean W. Clark Williams, offering to supervise the clinic’s unfinished projects so the students could finish the course and move on to graduation. Six other Sands Anderson attorneys joined Katz, and together, the firm took on two students with five client matters each.
“We had five weeks to turn 10 projects around,” Katz said.
According to the law school’s website, the clinic is a teaching law firm, staffed by a team of upper-level law students who are trained in intellectual property and business law issues. The students meet with actual business clients and provide applied legal work, supervised by a licensed attorney.
Carroll, an associate clinical professor with the law school, spearheaded the program and served as its director. But Carroll unexpectedly died on March 8, at the age of 44, after collapsing during a jog on campus. Katz, who also works as an adjunct professor at the law school, learned of Carroll’s death through other faculty members.
After Sands Anderson stepped in, the school found other local attorneys to help with the remaining students.
Katz said she and her colleagues faced somewhat of a handicap when first taking on the task. None of the attorneys had any prior knowledge of the student’s client matters. “It took so much catch-up time to figure out what each client needed,” she said.
There were at least three to four Sands Anderson attorneys working with each student on a variety of transactional matters, including business startups, incorporations and employment contracts.
In addition to Katz, Richmond attorneys Ashley Burgess, Karen Elliott, Tom Bowden and David Carroll helped supervise the students’ work. Katz also credited Donna Berkelhammer and David McKenzie, who practice out of the firm’s Raleigh, N.C., office, for helping students handle a number of intellectual property matters over the phone.
“Each attorney has a slightly different approach,” Katz said. “It was an incredible, intense learning experience for the students.”
Now that the semester has ended, the clinic is on hiatus until a new supervisor can be hired.
Katz said that, despite having to modify some of the clinic’s original goals, all clients were able to gain something valuable out of the exchange. Overall, she was pleased with the outcome and happy that her firm was able to step in and help.
“Both clients and students had their expectations fulfilled,” she said.