Students and Professionals Come Together to Talk Law and Life
January is National Mentoring Month and there is no better example of mentoring at its finest than the Professional Mentoring Program (PMP) at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law.
Since 2005, the PMP has been a national leader in offering guidance on legal skills, career opportunities and much more to law students. But, its strength lies not only in the practical skills provided but also the lifelong, personal connections it fosters and the dedicated mentors who donate their time.
The PMP is the brainchild of Director Mike Massey. While teaching in the Lawyering Process (LP) program he witnessed a great need for student guidance.
“I discovered that most of my first-year students had little first-hand knowledge of what lawyers did. Most of them had never met a lawyer and few of them had lawyers in the family,” Massey relates.
With the help of lawyer friends from his network, he launched the PMP to connect law students with lawyers. The program started modestly, including only students in Massey’s LP class, but it soon started to bloom as more students learned the value of professional connections.
Massey, along with then director of the LP program, Professor K.K. DuVivier, decided to expand the PMP, and by the 2007–08 academic year, the program offered a mentor to each first-year student at Denver Law, and has expanded to offer services to all J.D. and graduate students. Today, under the guidance of Massey and Andrew Frohardt, senior Professional Mentoring Program coordinator, nearly 1,100 people participate, including more than 600 students and 400 mentors.
Investing in the Future of the Profession
Doug Brown, retired chief attorney for the Colorado state legislature and member of the Mentor Advisory Board, has been volunteering his time to the PMP since the beginning.
“I always felt like having someone who had experience and had been in the law business, giving a young person a chance to have a relationship, exchange thoughts and just get to know each other, would be a tremendous benefit,” said Brown.
The program is designed to match students with mentors in their legal field of interest who can guide them through school and get them started in the profession.
“It’s just really practical help for the law students who in most cases don’t know what they are getting into,” said Brown, who adds that he runs the gamut of giving first-year students advice on how to handle the anxiety of law school to providing connections and networking opportunities for graduating mentees.
Mentors also really focus on another critical aspect of the profession: professional responsibility. Mentees are taught the foundation of what professional responsibility, legal ethics and proper behavior in the practice of law are all about. These reasons are also why many mentors donate their time.
“The whole business of professional responsibility is critical to any lawyers practice. It provides them grounding to help them grow in the profession. I really believe in the program, and in the professional responsibility of helping mentees out,” said Brown.
Bridging the Gap
Alumna and mentor, Mary Jo Gross (JD’79), knows first-hand how difficult it can be to be a law student without professional guidance. As a night student, she didn’t have a strong support system to help her along her legal journey.
“When I was in law school in the 70s in night school, I didn’t really have anyone who took much interest in what I was doing. I didn’t really have a support mechanism,” she related, adding “I enjoy mentoring the part-time students because I can relate to that experience.”
Gross is always looking for mentees, meeting them through the program, through recommendations, and through events. She opens her heart to her mentees and often opens her home to them, as well, inviting past and current mentees and others to join her for Thanksgiving. She also ensures that students she works with, past and present, have a place at her table at the annual DU Law Stars event.
Gross’ mentoring philosophy is simple.
“I just want them to know that I am here. If they need help with a project, or if they need me to listen to something. And I like to make sure that they are well fed.”
While the PMP is designed to take eight hours of a mentor-mentee pair’s time each academic year, those hours are just a drop in the bucket of what is actually offered. That’s because mentoring is not only about ushering in a new generation of lawyers into the profession; It’s also about developing connections and creating lifelong bonds.
Han DePorter, 1L, said that mentor, attorney and adjunct professor, Joe Goldhammer, has provided valuable guidance through his experience in education and labor law. But, importantly, their work together has yielded much more.
“Joe and I spent more time together than the mentorship program required, so in doing so, we got to know each fairly well,” related DePorter. “We talked about our shared love for hiking, so he invited me for a day of hiking and elk sightseeing in Rocky Mountain National Park. I don’t think we talked about anything law related that entire trip. Although this is a professional mentorship program, there are so many things that make up an individual’s identity besides being a lawyer, so I think it is important to see that as well.”
Goldhammer, who is not only involved in the program but also has an open door to former mentees, as well as students who have taken his courses at Denver Law, really takes on a holistic philosophy of mentoring the whole person.
“The personal relationships that you nurture and cultivate are part of our education. I wanted to make sure that Han felt at home not only with me but also with my family and knows to call on us whenever needed. Han’s very bright, a very good student and will make a fabulous lawyer,” Goldhammer said.
Brown has similar philosophy and often takes his mentees to Rockies games or Broncos games to create a connection outside of law. He said more guidance is often given over coffee or in a bleacher seat than any conference table.
“Telling your personal story allows mentees to relate to you as a person, not necessarily just a lawyer or as a resource. The connection outside of law, going to baseball games and football games, really creates a relationship. It’s those incidental things that you say that often turn out to be the most value to students,” he relates.
Han DePorter (l) and mentor Joe Goldhammer (r), adjunct professor at Denver Law.
The PMP doesn’t just benefit the students; it’s a positive experience for the mentors, as well.
“Mentoring, particularly at Denver Law, has been one of the most rewarding experiences of retirement. It gives you connection with young people, and it’s a growth experience,” Brown said.
Goldhammer takes pride in knowing that volunteering his time has spurred his mentees to do the same. In fact, around 50 percent of PMP mentors are Denver Law alumni.
“There is a culture of helping younger people. It’s part of what being a lawyer is.”
Denver Law’s PMP is always accepting new mentors to help shape the future of the legal professional. To learn more about the program, visit www.law.du.edu/professional-mentoring-program.
DU Teams Take Top Honors at the ABA Law Student Tax Challenge
(l-r): Kasia Parecki (JD/LLM), Christine Kuglin (JD/LLM), Associate Professor Erin Stearns, Dave Wilson (LLM) and Gretchen Bundy-Ladowicz (LLM).
Two University of Denver Sturm College of Law teams won first and second place at the national ABA Law Student Tax Challenge–LLM division in New Orleans last weekend. The team of Christine Kuglin (JD/LLM) and Kasia Parecki (JD/LLM) earned top honors and the team of Gretchen Bundy-Ladowicz (LLM) and Dave Wilson (LLM), both online students, took second place honors in the competition.
To qualify for the challenge finals, law student teams were asked to solve a cutting-edge and complex business problem that might arise in everyday tax practice. Teams were initially evaluated on two criteria: a memorandum to a senior partner and a letter to a client explaining the result.
The teams from Denver Law were among only four teams selected to attend the finals, held at the ABA Section of Taxation 2019 Midyear Meeting, January 17–19, in New Orleans. Each team defended its submission before a panel of judges representing the nation’s top tax practitioners and government officials, including U.S. Tax Court judges.
“Both teams gave extraordinary oral presentations and also submitted excellent written papers. I could not be more proud to have been in New Orleans to support them and share in their success,” said Erin Stearns, associate professor and competition coach. “I'm also grateful for the assistance from Professors John Wilson and Samantha Galvin, who did so much to prepare the team and support them, as well as for the assistance from the Graduate Tax Program faculty and staff.”
Congratulations to both teams, as well as their coaches, for this outstanding achievement.
John Wilson Receives CBA’s James E. Bye Lifetime Achievement Award
John Wilson, director of the University of Denver Graduate Tax Program, was recently honored as the recipient of the 2017-2018 James E. Bye Lifetime Achievement Award by the Tax Section of the Colorado Bar Association. Wilson is also partner at Holland & Hart in Denver. This annual award is presented to a Colorado tax attorney who has adhered to the highest principles and traditions of the legal profession in the practice of tax law, and who has distinguished himself or herself in areas such as the practice of tax law in the State of Colorado, the improvement of the quality of the tax law, legal education, service to the Tax Bar, and community involvement.
“I want to congratulate John for this well-deserved recognition,” said Laura Dinan, Holland & Hart’s Tax Practice Group Leader. “He is an outstanding leader and respected colleague in the legal community who provides the highest quality of service and mentoring to others.”
In his practice, Wilson provides strategic advice to clients on complex corporate and individual tax matters, mergers and acquisitions, international business transactions, and IRS audits and appeals. He is considered a leader in tax law and, as a faculty member at the Sturm College of Law, teaches courses such as international taxation, partnerships, consolidated returns, and individual tax problems. Wilson is nationally recognized by The Best Lawyers in America in Tax Law and Trusts and Estates and is also a Fellow of the American College of Tax Counsel, an elite group of America’s very best tax attorneys who have made an exceptional contribution in their profession.
University of Denver Low Income Taxpayer Clinic Saves Clients Over $1 Million Annually
Student-staffed clinic provides over 5,000 service hours a year to the taxpayer community.
You don’t have to look much further than the Low Income Taxpayer Clinic (LITC) at Sturm College of Law to see how the University of Denver is fulfilling its mission of being a private university dedicated to the public good. Since 1982, the clinic has been helping the low-income population dig its way out from under mountains of IRS debt.
LITC’s mission is to provide the low-income population (those with an annual gross income of $30,000 or less) with free legal services for tax issues. It generally doesn’t file taxes for people but does handle any issues that arise after the fact.
In 1998, Congress passed a big IRS restructuring act in response to public perception of abusive practices by the IRS. There were a number of reforms put in place—including funding for low income taxpayer clinics—as a measure to reform the IRS and help those who were underserved. The LITC was one of the first clinics funded.
“We handle everything that happens post-filing of a tax return,” says Erin Stearns, LITC director. “The program was structured to help lower income taxpayers know what options they had that they were likely not aware of. We facilitate those options for those people.”
And handle things the clinic does. In 2017 alone, LITC represented 273 taxpayers, helped taxpayers receive $26,372 in refunds from the IRS and decreased the total amount of tax liabilities, penalties and interest of clients by $1.3 million.
Stearns and LITC Assistant Director Samantha Galvin, as well as around 20 student participants a year, make it all possible.
Unlike other student law clinics at Denver Law, the LITC has both master's, JD and LLM participants. It is open to anyone in the Graduate Tax Program, law students and students in the Daniel’s Master of Accountancy Program.
“It’s really a hybrid practice area,” says Stearns. “We feel that if we are going to offer it in the Graduate Tax Program, and at least half of our students are master's students, they should be able to participate.”
This hands-on experience gives students the chance to handle work papers, participate in research and make arguments for their clients. In addition, participation in the clinic creates a multidisciplinary network that lasts long after graduation. The master's students are often coming from a tax and accountancy background, so they can handle issues that law students may not be familiar with. And, the law students studying for their LLM can handle the law aspects and legal research that the master's students may not be familiar with.
It’s a winning combination that has resulted in numerous success stories for the clinic. LITC has helped a range of people from those who struggled with taxes after The Great Recession took its toll on businesses to those who hadn’t filed taxes in years and everything in between.
One such case saw the clinic reduce an IRS debt of $29,000 to only $10. The client had had a successful career prior to suffering debilitating health issues, which left her living on long-term disability and social security disability income. Like many in her position, she didn’t realize she owed taxes on that income and did not have enough withholding. The LITC team took up the fight, and through adjusting her tax withholding and proving her high medical costs, an Offer of Compromise of $10 to the IRS and an offer of $10 to the state was accepted.
While this seems like an extraordinarily rare outcome, it is actually fairly common for the clinic. According to 2017 statistics, the median offer amount for 34 clients with accepted Offers of Compromise was just $10.
“We are just really focused on resolving conflicts with the IRS,” Galvin says. And for those who are struggling with tax debt, that is a huge relief.
Learn more about the LITC at https://www.law.du.edu/low-income-taxpayer-clinic
Sturm College of Law Veterans Advocacy Project Fights for Veterans’ Benefits and Quality of Life
Clinic has recovered more than $7.2 million for Colorado veterans
When professors, veterans, and law students join efforts, impressive solutions are possible. In the case of the University of Denver Sturm College of Law, that solution is the groundbreaking pro-bono Veterans Advocacy Project (VAP), which is making monumental strides in veteran legal services.
The VAP, the only program of its kind in Colorado, is the brainchild of Denver Law Professor Ann Vessels. She launched the clinic in 2015 after watching her own son, Sean, a former Marine, struggle to come back from three tours in the Middle East. He was struggling with PTSD and had to wait more than a year for his benefits to come through from the Veterans Administration (VA).
“Had he not lived with us, he’d have been on the streets,” said Vessels. Watching her son try to navigate the complex process of getting benefits gave her the incentive to launch the VAP, with the help of Denver Law alumni Mike Shea and Tim Franklin.
The clinic assists veterans who are appealing their VA benefit decisions, as well as those who need help changing their discharge status so they can access any benefits at all. A service member who receives an other-than-honorable discharge is not eligible for most benefits, including health care, disability or the GI Bill.
According to Vessels, other-than-honorable discharges can happen for a number of reasons, including the service members’ behavior, which can also be due to PTSD-related issues, or something as simple as being late a few times. Some discharges can even prevent veterans from gaining employment after they leave the service.
“It just seems unfair in some cases. That’s why we do the work to fight it,” she said.
And fight the clinic does. Since its inception, the clinic has recovered more than $7.2 million for veteran clients through successful discharge upgrade applications and VA disability benefit cases. However, the clinic doesn’t just recover money for veterans, it recovers quality of life.
“There’s a great line from a song that says we send them off to die for us and forget about them when they don’t. That is so, so true. And that’s why we do what we do,” said Vessels.
Vessels has seen veteran clients go from homelessness to receiving full benefits, plus back pay for benefits not received, getting them off the streets.
Alice Hansen, 2L
The clinic’s success is heavily fueled by hands-on, real-world work by Denver Law students who participate. Law students who work in the VAP take a seminar to learn the ins and outs of military benefits and spend 150 hours working with clients over the course of a semester.
Alice Hansen, 2L, works in the VAP and says her time is often spent interviewing clients to understand their situation from their point of view, reviewing any medical or military records, as well as past decisions made about their case, and drafting briefs to appeal past decisions that may have denied the veteran VA benefits or issued an other-than-honorable discharge.
“These can be truly life-changing decisions for a veteran, and it is hard for veterans to find no-cost legal services in these areas, so it is an incredible opportunity to put a legal education into meaningful work,” Hansen said. “I entered into law in order to provide legal services to underserved populations and the Veterans Advocacy Project provided a very hands-on way to learn these skills in serving an incredibly deserving population.”
Veterans Helping Veterans
Several students in the clinic are also veterans themselves, putting them in a unique position to earn real-world legal experience by helping their fellow veterans.
Brennan Heuser, 3L
“Doing two combat deployments, it is something I think about every day. I’ve had my own difficulties transitioning back. It’s been tough, but I did have a lot of help. I know a lot of others don’t have that, and I want to do something proactive to help these other men and women,” said Brennan Heuser, 3L, a U.S. Army sergeant who served two deployments, one in Pakistan and one Afghanistan.
For Heuser, while a large part of the program is helping these veterans gain access to benefits, it’s also about giving veterans someone who understands. He said he meets with clients who are really struggling with either mental or physical injuries due to their time in the service but have the military mentality that you don’t ask for help and you just handle it yourself.
“It’s pretty emotional. You’re dealing with really tough stories. I can relate to a lot of these stories, so I just work on having a healthy relationship with my clients. We’re trying to help people, and we are in a good position to help them legally by just listening to their story. It can save a life, honestly,” he said.
Martin Carbajal, 2L
Martin Carbajal, 2L, a petty officer in the U.S. Navy, said that it has been rewarding working with veterans and helping them move forward with their lives. Two clients he’s working with are waiting for discharge upgrades.
“These upgrades are huge for them because they will be able to get their educational benefits. One can not only get his educational benefits, but because the discharge characteristics he received, he can’t even get a job. So, to help him to be able to go work is huge,” Carbajal said.
For both veteran students working with the VAP, it’s about honoring their military service and giving back to others.
“We have a lot of pride in what we do, and just knowing that they are going to get some benefit out of it is rewarding,” Carbajal said.
Help the Veterans Advocacy Project
The VAP’s services are in high demand, and Vessels has a goal to continue to raise awareness and funding to serve as many veterans as possible. You can help by donating to the Veterans Clinic Gift Fund.
“Some of these veterans are being held back economically and socially. They are stuck at where they are at in their life then and there. As far as getting things back on track for them and helping out, ultimately, the Veterans Advocacy Project is the best avenue,” related Carbajal.
University of Denver Receives Grant from European Commission for Environmental Law & Policy Course Development
The European Commission, the executive branch of the European Union, has awarded a €300,000 ($350,000) grant to four universities including the University of Denver to develop a “transatlantic-based” law school course that will compare European Union and United States climate change and energy transition policies, laws, and practices.
The three-year grant, which will run from 2019-2021, has been awarded to the University of Denver Sturm College of Law, the Faculties of Law at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, and the University of Oslo, Norway, and the University of Colorado Boulder.
The Jean Monnet Program grant, which honors the legacy of the Frenchman referred to as “the father of Europe,” will fund the development of course materials, lectures, and European and American field trips by three leading climate change and energy transition (i.e., from fossil fuels to renewables) experts, Professor Catherine Banet of the University of Oslo, Professor Anita Rønne of the University of Copenhagen, and Professor Don Smith of the University of Denver. Felicia Naranjo Martinez, Executive Director of the European Union Center of Excellence at the University of Colorado, will oversee the development and implementation of the project.
In awarding the grant the European Commission said, “Addressing climate change and the need for transition to clean and sustainable energy resources are major challenges facing the global society,” adding that the “extended series of course will help towards a better understanding of the corresponding policies and the different approaches to climate change and the energy revolution in the US and EU.”
The first-of-its-kind course, which will be launched in January 2019, will include eight two-hour simultaneous video conferencing class sessions where students will meet in a virtual classroom. During these eight sessions, the professors will lecture about and compare the climate change- and energy transition-related policies, laws, and practices of the European Union (Rønne), the European Economic Area (Banet), and the United States (Smith). The European Commission described the three professors as having “a high level of expertise in the related issues. They all are deeply involved in European integration studies, both concerning the state of affairs in energy and in environmental policies of the EU.”
During the semester-long course, students will work in groups (e.g., each group of six will consist of two students from Copenhagen, Denver, and Oslo) to analyze and address a particularly timely issue associated with climate change and the energy transition. During the final week of the course in April 2019, students and professors will meet in person in Copenhagen where each group will make a presentation to everyone in the course as well as Danish climate change and energy transition experts. The in-person gathering will be capped with a field trip to a Danish island, Samso, that is 100 percent powered by renewable energy. In 2020 the in-person gathering will happen in Denver and in 2021 in Oslo.
In addition to the virtual classroom, and the opportunity for students to work across EU and US “boundaries,” the grant will provide funding for students to participate in the “end of course” in-person gatherings. This will allow students who have worked in groups to meet each other as well as their professors and develop the foundation for longer term personal and professional relationships.
“In order for the world to effectively address climate change, the EU and US must gain a better understanding of the capacities of each and the underlying policies that drive approaches to climate change and the energy transition,” Professor Smith said. “For example, the EU’s approach is driven more by a ‘top down’ method where the EU sets the goals. On the other hand, the US approach in the next few years will be set by a ‘bottom up’ method where states, such as California and Colorado, will take the lead rather than the federal government.”
The universities are located in cities and regions known for ambitious climate change and energy transition efforts. Copenhagen is one of the most sustainable cities in the world; Denver, located near the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory, has committed to using only renewable energy by 2030; and Oslo’s energy is largely produced today by renewables.
For more information about the key project players:
Associate Professor Margaret Kwoka Receives ALDF Pro Bono Achievement Award
Associate Professor Margaret Kwoka received the Pro Bono Achievement Award from the Animal Legal Defense Fund, recognizing her exemplary efforts for animals. She received the award at their third annual gala held in Los Angeles on September 8, 2018 where guests learned about the ALDF’s recent victories on behalf of animals. Net proceeds from the gala help fulfill their mission to protect the lives and advance the interests of animals through the legal system. Pictured with Kwoka is ALDF’s Pro Bono Program Director Tom Linney, Executive Director Steve Wells and Founder & General Counsel Joyce Tischler.
Denver Law Welcomes New Faculty Members
The University of Denver Sturm College of Law is proud to welcome four new faculty members to the Denver Law community for the upcoming academic year. These highly accomplished teachers, scholars and practitioners significantly enhance the law school’s offerings in health law and environmental law as well as the legal writing and externship programs.
“These four outstanding colleagues will add further expertise to our #7-ranked legal writing program, our #8-ranked clinical program, our #19-ranked environmental law program, our nationally recognized externship program, and our emerging strength in the area of health law,” observed Dean Bruce Smith. “We look forward to celebrating the achievements of these outstanding colleagues in the years to come.”
University of Denver Sturm College of Law to Recognize 2018 Law Stars
Annual gala honors acclaimed alumni and faculty
The University of Denver Sturm College of Law will recognize its 2018 Law Stars honorees at a gala event on Thursday, Nov. 1 at the Hilton Denver City Center.
DU Law Stars has honored distinguished alumni and faculty at this annual event since 1993. Proceeds from this year’s event will go to the Denver Law Fund, which supports the Sturm College of Law’s most important strategic priorities, including affordability, curricular innovation and postgraduate professional opportunities. The event includes a personal commemorative video of each honoree, recounting accomplishments both professional and personal. Learn more about DU’s Law Stars program: www.law.du.edu/alumni/law-stars.
A reception begins at 6 p.m., followed by dinner and honoree video tributes. Members of the media are invited to attend and should RSVP to DU Media Relations at (720) 608-0240 or email@example.com.
The following individuals are receiving honors this year: