Community Advocacy Clinic - College of Law

Community Advocacy Clinic

TU Law student Kelsey Harrison

Employment barriers -- and solutions -- for justice-involved people




Boesche Legal Clinic at the TU College of Law
3120 East 4th Place
Tulsa, Oklahoma 74104

The Lobeck Taylor Community Advocacy Clinic (CAC) trains future lawyers and promotes access to justice in two ways: by representing client organizations in systemic advocacy projects and by representing individual clients in cases before state courts and administrative agencies. Students represent client organizations in the fall semester and individual clients in the spring semester (students are required to have a Legal Intern License for spring only).

Note: The CAC is not offered every semester.

Community-based work

The CAC’s work is driven by the goals and needs identified by its clients and partners in the community. This work challenges students to reflect critically on their role in the justice system and teaches them how to effectively and responsibly advocate for clients and communities.

Learn more about the CAC’s work in the community.


Projects (fall semester)

  • Must be 2nd- or 3rd-year student
  • Must have completed (or be concurrently enrolled in) Professional Responsibility

Cases (spring semester)

  • Must be 2nd- or 3rd-year student
  • Must have completed (or be concurrently enrolled in) Professional Responsibility and Evidence
  • Must have an Oklahoma Legal Intern License

Lawyers as problem-solvers

In the CAC, students solve problems for their clients inside and outside the courtroom. Students manage cases from beginning to end, including interviewing and counseling clients, developing factual and legal arguments, negotiating with opposing parties, drafting and arguing motions, and handling bench trials. In past semesters, students have represented victims of intimate partner violence, harassment, and stalking in protective order cases in Tulsa County District Court and disabled children in social security benefits cases. Additional practice areas may be added in the future.

In the CAC, students develop strengths in legal analysis, argument, and strategic thinking in the context of ongoing litigation. Students learn essential elements of legal practice, including client interviewing and counseling, fact investigation, witness preparation, negotiation, oral advocacy, drafting and arguing motions, examining witnesses, and presenting evidence. Students also develop their understanding of professional responsibility as they grapple with ethical issues that arise in legal practice.

The seminar component

All students attend a weekly seminar where they learn substantive law, reflect on the challenges of legal practice, assist one another with case development, and practice essential lawyering skills. The vast majority of seminar time involves simulation exercises, collaborative work, and other interactive learning methods. The seminar covers areas including but not limited to:

  • Substantive Law
  • Evidentiary Rules and Court Procedure
  • Local Judicial and Legal Systems
  • Professional Ethics
  • Client and Witness Interviewing
  • Fact Investigation and Development
  • Client Counseling and Communication
  • Negotiation
  • Professional Communication and Collaboration Skills
  • Litigation Skills and Trial Advocacy: Case Theory, Trial Planning, Opening and Closing Statements, Direct and Cross Examination, Oral Argument, and Motions Practice
  • The Community Advocacy Clinic's work in the community

    In the Community Advocacy Clinic (CAC), students have represented community groups, non-profit organizations, and government agencies in a variety of contexts, including systemic advocacy and community development work.

    Roadmap-Team-15 Access to Justice project team (Fall 2015) with Professor Anna Carpenter

    Current projects

    Justice and Jobs

    A team of students assisted Workforce Tulsa on a critical economic development and justice issue: finding and removing barriers to employment for people with a history of criminal justice involvement. Given that Oklahoma has the highest incarceration rate in the nation, ensuring that formerly justice-involved people have access to quality jobs is a necessary ingredient in economic development, as well as family and community well-being. Workforce Tulsa — the workforce “hub” in the Tulsa area — has observed that many Oklahomans are prevented from finding jobs, particularly well-paid jobs, because of a criminal record. In response, the student team conducted original research to understand the scope and nature of barriers to employment for those with criminal justice involvement, as well as the potential for reform.

    Read the full report by Kate Forest, Kelsey Harrison and Emily Turner: Increasing Job Opportunities, Improving the Economy, Investing in Oklahoma.

    Unrepresented Litigants in Guardianships

    In this project, an Advanced Community Advocacy Clinic student is working with Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma, Inc. (LASO) on an intervention aimed at making civil courts easier to navigate for people without counsel: simplified court forms for guardianship matters.

    In Oklahoma and across the country, the majority of people with cases in state civil courts have no representation. Unlike in criminal courts, where defendants have a right to counsel, there is no right to counsel in civil matters. When they cannot afford or find a lawyer, people must face the complexity of civil litigation on their own.

    In response to the massive number of self-represented litigants in civil courts, many other states have developed a range simplified court forms for use by the general public. Oklahoma currently has statewide, simplified court forms in only one area of law: domestic violence protective orders.  This project seeks to add guardianships to that list. Many, if not most, people seeking guardianship over a child or adult cannot afford, or do not know they need, legal representation. Access to simple, easy-to-understand forms will help those attempting to navigate the guardianship process.

    Past projects

    Resilient Tulsa

    In this project, students helped the City of Tulsa’s Resilience Office with research and recommendations related to the future of community policing and the relationship between police and community members. The context of this work is the Resilient Tulsa program, an initiative supported by the Rockefeller Foundation.

    Tulsa Fire Department

    In Tulsa and other cities across the country, fire departments are increasingly the default source of supportive services for people with chronic physical and mental health conditions. At the Tulsa Fire Department (TFD), requests for such services have been on the rise in recent years, particularly from “high utilizer” callers. In response, TFD created the Community Access, Referral, and Education Services (CARES) program, which is designed to connect (and re-connect) people with other supportive services in the community and reduce the number of high utilizer service requests. A student team worked with TFD to assess the CARES program and develop a set of internal policies and procedures.

    The students also created this overview of the CARES program.

    People Aging with Serious Mental Illness

    In this project, students worked with the Serious Mental Illness and Aging Taskforce, a multi-agency group led by the Mental Health Association Oklahoma. The students conducted original analysis and developed policy recommendations in a critical area of health law and policy: how to make residential care more widely available to aging Oklahomans with serious mental illness and co-occurring medical conditions.  Their final report is The Looming Crisis in Care and Housing for Oklahomans Aging with Serious Mental Illness.

    Tulsa Fire Department Team Presents Final Report Tulsa Fire Department Team Presents Final Report

    Legislative Responses to Court Costs and Fees (Fall 2016)

    Building on the Community Advocacy Clinic’s previous investigations into the related issues of court costs and fees assessed to criminal defendants and modern debtors’ prisons, a student team developed legislative proposals to address these issues in Oklahoma. The client was the Oklahoma Policy Institute, a non-partisan independent policy think-tank. Read the report: The Costs of Justice: A Plan for Promoting Efficiency and Public Safety through Criminal Court Costs Reform

    Improving Housing in Tulsa (Fall 2016)

    On behalf of Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma (LASO), a student team developed a comprehensive advocacy plan designed to end the problem of unhealthy, unsafe housing conditions in Tulsa County. Read the report: A Housing Strategy for Tulsa: Understanding the Cost of Harmful Homes

    Supporting Holistic Public Defense (Fall 2016)

    Still She Rises, Tulsa, is a new non-profit law office offering representation to women with children from the North Tulsa community. It is a project of The Bronx Defenders, which is nationally recognized for its model of holistic public defense. A student team assisted Still She Rises leadership with the process of starting up the firm and assessing client and community needs.

    Access to Justice Project (Fall 2015)

    A team of CAC students assisted the Oklahoma Access to Justice Commission, which the Oklahoma State Supreme Court created in 2014 to address the crisis in access to justice in the state. The student team conducted research and made recommendations to the Commission on two proposed access to justice interventions: unbundled legal services and court navigator programs.  They also helped the Commission understand the nature of the access to justice problem in Oklahoma and helped make strategic recommendations for the future of the Commission’s work. The student team’s report is titled, A Roadmap for Reform: A Continuum of Interventions for Access to Justice in Oklahoma.

    Integrated Domestic Violence Court Project (Fall 2015)

    Since 2014, the CAC has helped the Tulsa County Integrated Domestic Violence Court (IDV Court) with research, analysis and self-assessment. In the beginning, CAC students helped the court understand the range of possible assessment methods. Today, CAC students have developed a survey for victims and defendants with cases before the IDV Court. This work is possible through a unique partnership between law students and faculty at the CAC and psychology students and faculty from the University of Tulsa Institute for Trauma, Adversity, and iNjustice (TITAN). Key partners in this long-term project include Dr. Joanne Davis an expert in trauma, and Kelsey Hancock, a graduate student and TITAN coordinator. The CAC and TITAN will pilot the litigant survey in 2016. The survey will eventually help the Court understand the experiences of litigants, including victims and offenders, with the goal of identifying the Court’s strengths and areas for improvement. CAC students have produced the following products for the IDV Court:

    Phoenix Rising (Fall 2015)

    David Richardson, the former director of Phoenix Rising, was frustrated by a lack of clarity about his schools legal classification. A partnership between the Juvenile Bureau and Tulsa Public Schools, Phoenix Rising serves youth who are or have been involved in the juvenile justice system and are at risk of not graduating high school. Richardson and his team faced a range of hurdles because they did not know whether the school was a “traditional” public school, or an “alternative” school under Oklahoma law. After years of trying solve the puzzle, Richardson finally turned to the Community Advocacy Clinic for help. In this strategic planning project, three law students became experts in education law and policy and developed recommendations to support the school’s development and growth. The team produced a report titled, Phoenix Rising: Educating Through Partnership.

    Family Advocacy Clinic project team with Phoenix Rising administrators and staff
    CAC project team with Phoenix Rising administrators and staff

    Integrated Domestic Violence Court: Phase II (Spring 2015)

    In the second phase of the Integrated Domestic Violence Court Project, a student team began the development of a “litigant assessment tool” for the Court. This tool will eventually help the Court understand the experiences of litigants, including victims and offenders, with the goal of identifying the Court’s strengths and areas for improvement. In the spring of 2015, clinic students began an interdisciplinary partnership with the TU Department of Psychology and the Tulsa Institute for Trauma, Adversity, and iNjustice (TITAN) to bring the combined expertise of law and psychology to this project. The student team produced an interim report on the Litigant Assessment Tool.

    Criminal Cases and Court Costs (Spring 2015)

    On behalf of the George Kaiser Family Foundation and Women in Recovery, a student team conducted a two-part research project analyzing the source (authorizing statutes) of all court fines and fees assessed on non-violent offenders in Oklahoma, and the role these court fines and fees play in different state and county budgets once collected by the court clerk, with a specific focus on Tulsa County. Read the Report: Caught Up in Court Costs

    Integrated Domestic Violence Court: Phase I (Fall 2014)

    In the first phase of a three-part project, the newly-created Tulsa County Integrated Domestic Violence Court asked the Community Advocacy Clinic to assist the court in assessing effectiveness. A student team helped the Court Director and judges understand the range of possible assessment methods, answering questions such as: Should assessment be based on case outcomes, process, or both? Do the experience of litigants matter, and if so, how? What are the appropriate measures of success? The students produced a report: Cultivating a Successful Future for the Integrated Domestic Violence Court in Tulsa County.

    Mothers in the Criminal Justice System (Fall 2014)

    Clinic students investigated what happens when women with children are involved in the criminal justice system in Tulsa County. The student team explored a range of issues beginning with a woman’s first contact with law enforcement through her potential incarceration in the Tulsa jail including: women and children’s experiences during arrest; issues related to child custody after arrest and during incarceration; and women’s access to information about, and ability to visit with, their children after arrest and during incarceration. The client in this project was the George Kaiser Family Foundation. The student team’s report is titled: Fragmented System, Fragmented Families: Research and Recommendations on Mothers in the Tulsa County Criminal Justice System.

    Debtors’ Prisons in Tulsa County? Assessing the Use of Imprisonment as a Penalty for Failure to Pay Legal Debt (Spring 2014)

    In this project, a team of CAC students represented members of the Oklahoma Assets Network (OAN) including the ACLU of Oklahoma, Oklahoma Policy Institute, and YWCA of Tulsa. A student team analyzed the legal framework governing Tulsa County’s ability to imprison an individual for failure to pay legal debt and conducted original research into the existing policies and practices in Tulsa County. The team completed a report offering findings and recommendations for Tulsa County to improve policy and practice related to the assessment and collection of court costs and fines in criminal cases. Read the report: Assessing the Cost: Criminal Fines, Court Costs, and Procedure versus Practice in Tulsa County

    Family Safety Center Project: Developing Strategies for Managing Professional Ethics and Other Obligations in a Multi-Disciplinary Domestic Violence Agency (Spring 2014)

    Law students worked with the Family Safety Center (FSC), an organization that oversees a collaboration of private and public agencies that provide services to domestic violence and sexual assault victims. In this project, a student team developed strategies to help the FSC maximize the strengths of its multi-disciplinary, collaborative model while effectively managing the challenges that arise when professionals from different disciplines work together to serve the same population. The project involved intensive research, as well as legal and policy analysis, and culminated in a set of recommendations to guide the FSC and its agency partners in successful collaboration and service delivery.