2014 Archives

New SMU Family Law Clinic to provide community service and inspiring experience for students

June 23, 2014

DALLAS (SMU) – A donation of $4 million to SMU’s Dedman School of Law will endow the new VanSickle Family Law Clinic to provide free legal help for Dallas-area residents as well as essential skills training for Dedman Law students.

SMU Law QuadThe clinic, expected to open in fall 2015, will provide legal assistance for low-income North Texas residents in matters such as divorce, annulment, paternity actions, custody and visitation, child and spousal support.

“SMU’s Dedman School of Law is proud to be able to offer vital family legal services to people who might not otherwise be able to afford them,” said SMU President R. Gerald Turner. “This important clinic experience will be invaluable to the lawyers we graduate who go on to practice family law, and will provide all participating students with a heightened sensitivity about the human impact and challenges of family legal issues.”

The donor whose generous gift is funding the VanSickle Family Law Clinic has requested anonymity.

“Our clinical education program at the Dedman School of Law is central to our mission of providing outstanding legal education as well as service to the community,” said Julie Forrester, Dedman Law Dean ad interim. “Beginning in 1947, the Clinical Program at the Dedman School of Law was among the country’s first to sponsor a community legal clinic. The VanSickle Family Law Clinic will be a significant enhancement to the clinic program, providing outstanding service to its clients while also providing our students with practical experience and encouraging in them a commitment to public service.”

The VanSickle Family Law Clinic will place students in professional situations in which they are required to put classroom theory into practice.  Students enrolled in the clinic will learn by representing clients and engaging in a variety of tasks, such as:

  • Interviewing and counseling
  • Conducting factual investigations and legal research
  • Preparing court documents
  • Negotiating property settlement agreements for divorce actions
  • Negotiating custody agreements
  • Advocating at conferences, hearings, and trials

An academic director will train and closely supervise eight-10 student attorneys each semester who will represent families through the VanSickle Family Law Clinic. The director will meet regularly with each student attorney throughout the semester and will accompany the student to all court appearances and major settlement negotiations.  During the summer, the clinic director will continue to represent clients whose matters extend past the end of the academic year.

“Dedman Law’s clinical program has evolved to reflect changing perspectives in legal education and innovation in legal practice while remaining committed to the ideals that shaped it from its inception: public service, professional responsibility, and outstanding skills training,” said Brad Cheves, SMU vice president for Development and External Affairs. “We are proud to accept a gift that helps meet our campaign goals by expanding this important program.”

The gift to fund the VanSickle Family Law Clinic counts toward the $1 billion goal of SMU Unbridled: The Second Century Campaign, which to date has raised $874 million to support student quality, faculty and academic excellence and the campus experience.  The campaign coincides with SMU’s celebration of the 100th anniversary of the University’s founding in 1911 and its opening in 1915.


Each year more than 170 Dedman Law students provide low or no-cost legal aid to Dallas residents through clinics that handle more than 360 cases annually. The VanSickle Family Law Clinic is the newest of the existing clinics and programs offered by Dedman School of Law:

Civil Clinic: Represents low-income clients in matters ranging from housing disputes to elder advocacy to civil rights litigation.

Criminal Justice Clinic: Represents Dallas county citizens charged with criminal offenses, works with the Dallas Public Defender’s Office and provides students with jury trial experience.

Federal Taxpayers Clinic: Represents low-income clients needing to resolve tax problems with the Audit, Appeals and Collection divisions of the Internal Revenue Service and the U.S. Tax Court. This clinic was the first tax clinic in the country with the authority to represent clients before the IRS and the U.S. Tax Court.

Small Business Clinic: Introduces student attorneys to practical applications of business formation and provides needed representation for small start-up companies and individuals developing private nonprofit entities.

W. W. Caruth, Jr. Child Advocacy Clinic: Represents children who have been abused and neglected in Dallas County. The clinic is appointed by juvenile district court judges to serve as guardian/attorney ad litem.

Consumer Advocacy Project: Reaches out to the local bilingual Hispanic community and helps resolve consumer complaints. This clinic focuses on formal litigation, informal advocacy, negotiation and mediation strategies, as well as community education.

Judge Elmo B. Hunter Legal Center for Victims of Crimes Against Women: Will provide services for victims of domestic violence, sex trafficking and other crimes against women.

Related Link:

The Dallas Morning NewsRobert Miller: Anonymous donor gives $4 million to SMU Law School



SMU is a nationally ranked private university in Dallas founded 100 years ago. Today, SMU enrolls nearly 11,000 students who benefit from the academic opportunities and international reach of seven degree-granting schools.

SMU Dedman School of Law was founded in 1925 and named Dedman School of Law in 2001 in honor of Dallas benefactors Nancy and Robert H. Dedman, Sr., and their family.  SMU Dedman Law offers both a full-time, J.D. program, and a part-time evening J.D. program; two joint degree programs, J.D./M.B.A. and J.D/M.A. in economics; four graduate degree programs, LL.M. program for foreign law school graduates, LL.M. in Taxation, general LL.M., and an S.J.D. program. The law school enjoys a national and international reputation of distinction, with graduates that have distinguished themselves as global leaders in law, business and government, and as prominent members of the judiciary.