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UK Rosenberg College of Law Students Prioritize Giving Back, Paying It Forward

University of Kentucky J. David Rosenberg College of Law students have embraced community service as an essential part of their education. In the fall 2019, among other activities, students made sandwiches for the hungry, collected pennies for families in need, and delivered school supplies to one of the poorest counties in the country.

On Thanksgiving Day, Connor Hicks, a second-year law student, delivered notebooks, pens, warm clothing and other items to the nonprofit Hope Chest in McDowell County, West Virginia, for distribution to students in the area.

Hicks first visited McDowell County as part of an undergraduate internship at the West Virginia University College of Law Land Use and Sustainable Development Law Clinic, before he became a student at the UK Rosenberg College of Law. Hicks said he met the friendliest people there and he wanted to help the community struggling with high rates of poverty and drug overdoses. For two consecutive years, the Rosenberg College of Law community has been eager to help with the effort, Hicks said. He has received support from fellow students, student organizations—including the Appalachian Law Caucus and The Federalist Society— faculty and staff.

 “One of the core values at UK Rosenberg College of Law is to prepare our students to be responsible members and leaders of the communities in which they live. I am always proud to see our students, faculty and staff embracing community service as an important part of legal education almost equal to classroom and practical skills training,” said Daniel P. Murphy, Jr., senior assistant dean of community engagement and operations.

In September, Rosenberg College of Law’s Legal Clinic partnered with the Student Bar Association for trivia night at a local pub. The Student Bar Association collected team entry fees and seven complete turkey dinners were purchased and delivered to Legal Clinic clients before the holidays. In the same month, the Black Law Students Association (BLSA) partnered with the Women’s Law Caucus for a Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk and fundraiser.

“We want to make sure that everyone can give back to the community no matter how much money they have or how much time,” said Asia Ellis, 2019-2020 BLSA president.

Ellis said BLSA intends to organize at least one community service project each month, and the group plans to work with other student organizations as often as possible. Students made 140 sandwiches for a homeless shelter in downtown Lexington, Kentucky, in October. In November, BLSA organized Penny Wars, which challenged the law community to donate as many pennies as possible to help families in need over the holidays. BLSA’s Penny Wars raised $1,041.73. The money was donated to three families with a combined nine children. This spring, BLSA wants to host a blood drive and organize an after-school meal program.

 “It’s important now, early on, to establish that it’s important to give back,” said Darrian Botts, a second-year law student and BLSA public relations chair. “If you do that early on, you’re going to be more likely to do it later on.”

Botts said community service work has helped her get to know the people outside of the law building and, in turn, the community gets to know the law students.  

Taylor Kennedy, a second-year law student and BLSA’s programming and events chair, said it is crucial that law students get involved in communities where their expertise as attorneys might be needed in the future.

 “I know growing up, people were afraid of attorneys—and talking to them—and definitely felt that people in these professional positions had their noses in the air and weren’t interested in giving back or paying it forward,” Kennedy said. “I don’t think that’s a fair stereotype, and I want to do as much as I can to break those kinds of things down.”

Kennedy said listening to diverse groups of people throughout the community has taught her more about how the law intersects with the community’s needs.

 “For lawyers, there are so many things we can do in our field,” Kennedy said. “Community service works in two ways. You’re helping people, which is great, but they’re also helping you, which also feels great. It benefits both sides.”