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Q&A with Penny White, Distinguished Professor of Law

Penny White

Penny White, E.E. Overton Distinguished Professor of Law, Director of the Center for Advocacy and Dispute Resolution, and Interim Director of Clinical Programs

What community need does the UT Legal Clinic meet?

Our student attorneys provide legal assistance to members of Tennessee’s most vulnerable populations – the poor, the homeless, immigrants, and the accused.

Our Advocacy, Appellate, Domestic Violence, Immigration, Mediation, and Wrongful Convictions Clinics serve indigent and economically-disadvantaged clients in state and federal court proceedings and in mediations; our Wills Clinic assists clients by drafting wills, trusts, powers of attorney, and advanced healthcare directives; and our Business and Non-Profit Clinics provide counsel and advice to organizations and small business owners who could not otherwise afford to obtain legal guidance.

What have you learned from working with external partners and community members?

By exposing our students to professionals who work for a host of community partners, we are able to help them learn to work collaboratively to benefit their clients. We are able to draw upon our partners’ areas of expertise, while they are able to benefit from our passion and commitment; all of this inures to the overall benefit and service to our clients.

What advice would you give someone else, particularly in regards to involving non-university-based partners?

In engaging with non-university partners, or in collaborating on any joint project, it is always beneficial to listen to the views of the various stakeholders and determine wherein the strengths lie. By joining forces, by capitalizing on one another’s strengths and compensating for one another’s weaknesses, we can do so much more than we can do alone.

What does ‘Making a Difference’ mean to you?

“Making a Difference” is the motivating mantra for many who choose law as a career but all too often the pressures of time that law school brings and the steep learning curve of the law cause students to question whether – and if so when—they will really be able to make a difference in people’s lives.

Many students find the answer to these questions when they participate in a legal clinic. For example, Lucy Boateng, a summer intern in the Immigration Clinic, said that work in the clinic reminded her of why she came to law school. “For the first time, I felt like I was making a difference.”

Another student, Kaitlin Parham, grateful for the supplement to classroom learning that a clinical experience offers notes that “being able to assist clients and help them navigate the world of immigration law is rewarding. Joining the Immigration Clinic has  made me realize that being a lawyer is more than just filing motions and going to court – it is about building meaningful relationships with the clients that you serve.”

“… One client at a time.”

UT Legal Clinic began its 69th year this August with more than 50 students preparing to assume the important task of representing others who need legal assistance. In attempting to prepare them for the awesome responsibility they were undertaking while balancing the potential overwhelming nature of the task, we shared the story of the young boy whose effort to save starfish washed ashore by throwing them one by one back into the ocean was questioned by a dubious passerby. The passerby doubted that the single effort could make any difference given the miles of beach and the thousands of star fish. In response, the young boy threw another starfish into the sea and said, “Maybe, but it made a difference for that one.”  Students in UT’s Legal Clinic, like the young boy on the beach, strive to make a difference one client at a time.

UT Legal Clinics were nominated as Partnerships that Makes a Difference. Click here to read more.