‘The Things They Carry’: Best-Selling Author Helps Inaugurate Poverty Law Program
‘The Things They Carry’: Best-Selling Author Helps Inaugurate Poverty Law Program

An official inauguration of Creighton University School of Law’s poverty law program took place on Oct. 23 with an event co-sponsored by Legal Aid of Nebraska.

Alex Kotlowitz, a journalist and national best-selling author, kicked off the event with a lecture at Creighton University’s Mike & Josie Harper Center auditorium.

In “The Things They Carry: Growing Up Poor in the World’s Richest Nation,” Kotlowitz spoke to the myths we hold of those struggling along the margins.

While the event gave practicing attorneys in attendance one hour of continuing legal education (CLE) credit, it also served as a platform to educate current Creighton law students about this unique program.

Kotlowitz, a former staff writer at The Wall Street Journal, has spent much of the last 35 years telling stories of those who have little left to lose, those who understand better than most the deep economic divide in this country. Like so many who pursue a career in the law, he holds the fundamental yet threatened notion that life ought to be fair. 

Kotlowitz has long been a regular contributor to The New York Times Magazine and public radio’s This American Life. He is the author of three books, including the national bestseller There Are No Children Here, which the New York Public Library selected as one of the 150 most important books of the 20th century. It received the Helen Bernstein Award, the Carl Sandburg Award and a Christopher Award, and was adapted as a television movie produced by and starring Oprah Winfrey. It was selected as a Notable Book of the Year by The New York Times.

Kotlowitz underscored why it’s so essential that we work to ensure that life indeed is fair and why narrative or storytelling, especially in the law, is such an essential tool in getting there.

The family of Robert P. Heaney, BS’47, MD’51, presented Creighton University School of Law with funding in spring 2016 to establish the poverty law program. His daughter, Marian, or “Muirne” as she’s known, is a managing attorney at Legal Aid of Nebraska and a 1983 alumna of Creighton’s law school.

This gift expands the poverty law program to help those with limited means—some of the most vulnerable members of society—by educating Creighton law students about the legal, political and social challenges facing those living in poverty. The fund promotes student participation in three forms:

  • First, 10 scholarships to cover half the tuition cost of enrolling in the three-credit Poverty Law Survey Course.
  • Second, up to six scholarships/stipends to cover the tuition cost of enrolling in the three-credit civil poverty law externship.
  • Third, two years of post-graduation loan repayment assistance for any student who completes both poverty law courses and practices poverty law after graduation.

During the 2016-17 academic year, four students received scholarships toward coursework and one received the scholarship to complete an externship. This academic year, third-year law student Katelyn Lawrence of Columbus, Nebraska, is the recipient of the scholarship to complete an externship, and she was one of the students who received one last year toward coursework.

Lawrence recently spoke about her interest in poverty law and what it means to her to be a recipient of this scholarship.

What inspired you to pursue this scholarship?

During the summer of my first year of law school, I worked for the Colfax County attorney and was exposed to a number of people who needed legal assistance but due to the cost, could not afford legal help. It was during this time I wanted to better understand the intricacies of poverty law, applications to Social Security, Medicaid, welfare benefits and more and why people struggled so much.

What course did you take at Creighton on the scholarship?

I took poverty law, which is taught by adjunct faculty member Ann Mangiameli, JD’91, manager of the health, education and law project at Legal Aid of Nebraska. She is also my supervisor during my externship right now.

What are you working on at your externship at Legal Aid of Nebraska?

I’m working alongside Ann Mangiameli, as well as with Jayne Wagner, JD’14, a staff attorney. These two women have had me working on multiple different projects, such as drafting wills, powers of attorney and health care powers of attorney. I have also worked on guardianships, applications to Medicaid and Social Security, housing issues with the Omaha Housing Association, motions for default and a trial letter. I have also gotten my senior certification* and have made appearances in the courtroom under Jayne, my supervising attorney. [*The Nebraska Supreme Court’s Senior Law Student Practice Rules, Neb. Ct. R. §§ 3-701–3-706, allow Clinic students to participate in legal activities under the general supervision of a Nebraska-licensed attorney.]

Do you plan on making a career in poverty law after graduating with your juris doctorate in 2018?

Yes, though not necessarily in Omaha. I really want to return to rural areas in Nebraska, not only because people there struggle to afford attorneys, but there is also a shortage of attorneys there. In some counties in Nebraska, there are only three attorneys per 20,000 people or more. My dream job would be working in a satellite office or hospital for Legal Aid of Nebraska.

Do you know a student interested in poverty law who might be a good candidate for this scholarship? Criteria: Recipients must be second- or third-year law students at Creighton University School of Law and must complete in-house application forms. Email emilybeller [at] creighton [dot] edu (Emily Beller), assistant dean of student affairs and special projects, for more information.