Professor of Law Wendy Bach teaches the Advocacy Clinic at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, in which law students represent low-income clients under the close supervision of professors.
“Our cases are the textbook,” said Bach. “Students learn to interview the clients and negotiate with judges and other lawyers.”
Everything changed abruptly last spring with the pandemic. “When the courts shut down, our textbook disappeared. So did the sense of urgency about what they were learning,” said Bach.
“We wanted to recapture that sense of urgency, particularly at a moment when everyone was feeling so lost. With businesses closing and people losing their jobs, we knew that evictions were going to be a big problem.”
As described in a story on the College of Law website, Bach checked in with Katy Ramsey of the University of Memphis School of Law, who teaches a similar class which, luckily, met at the same time as hers each week.
“A collaboration was born,” said Bach. “We broke into smaller teams that each included students from both Knoxville and Memphis. We did a statewide survey about how courts were handling eviction cases in each county.
“We know that some landlords will follow the law. Others will do illegal evictions by changing the locks or taking the doors off.
“We created a set of model pleadings that legal services attorneys could use if landlords were trying to evict tenants illegally. The students also prepared know-your-rights materials and published an op-ed in the Daily Memphian. They figured out how the courts were actually functioning and learned how to improvise in a moment, at a very intense scale. That teaches leadership in a very particular way.
“In a crisis everyone was feeling powerless,” said Bach. “But our students learned that they were actually not powerless. It was an amazing experience. It opened up my own concept of what we can be when we get back.”