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Drake LGBTQ+ clinic earns Drake Law School recognition from preLaw magazine

THE DRAKE LEGAL CLINIC provides legal help to Drake students, and recently was named a top school in human rights by preLaw magazine. PHOTO BY Meghan Holloran | photo editor

On April 22, 2023, members of the LGBTQ+ community met at Drake’s Legal Clinic to assist members of the community in filling out important forms, such as name and gender-marker changes. The simple brick building just off campus is used for many other clinics that are dedicated to human rights.

Recently, preLaw magazine named Drake Law as a top school in the area of human rights, earning an A+ ranking, in part because of the clinic.

It’s really exciting to see Drake being acknowledged for all the hard work they do,” law student Catherine Dukelow said. “Human rights are something everyone should value, and I’m glad to see how Drake contributes to the community.”

According to Danielle Shelton, one of the organizers of the event, there was a need for the clinic because there are not many legal aid services for LGBTQ+ people in Iowa right now. The lack of aid for the community helped drive the diversity, equity and inclusion committee to start the LGBTQ+ clinic. 

“Last year, I was chair of the law school’s diversity, equity and inclusion committee, and we decided we wanted to do some kind of one-day clinic,” Shelton said. “We saw a void, so I came up with the idea of a clinic focusing on the LGBTQ+ community. I helped promote the idea and then helped run the clinic.”

Stories around final disposition forms, which allow a person to decide what happens to themselves when they die, was one of the reasons Shelton cited for proposing the clinic. 

“I had heard just terrible stories of LGBTQ+ people’s needs being ignored,” Shelton said. “I specifically heard one story about a trans man who was buried in a dress because of his family’s wishes. It’s stories like this that helped guide us to create the clinic.”

Law students ran the clinic, with services including legal name changes, gender-marker changes, assigning a medical power of attorney and naming a designee for final disposition. 

Shelton recognized that the legal process can be intimidating for someone who is an outsider of the system.
“We’re always aware that we need to make a situation feel comfortable,” Shelton said. “…We made sure in our training that every student was culturally competent, so we wouldn’t add to any hurt to the members of the community.” 

The clinic came as a collaboration between Drake Law and the Des Moines law firm Dentons Davis Brown. According to Shelton, about 10 paralegals and attorneys from the firm assisted with the clinic and helped train students in two-hour training sessions.

“Dentons really played a role helping our students out by going through the forms with the students before the clinic,” Drake Law School Dean Jerry Anderson said. “They really had expertise in the area that was very valuable.”

Drake University offers opportunities to study human rights both at the law school and in undergraduate programs through the human rights minor.

“We are dedicated to providing our students opportunities to engage in public service,” Anderson said. “We offer courses in human rights, but where Drake Law stands out is with the practice that we provide for our students.”

Drake stands out because of all the opportunities it provides,” Dukelow said. “Aside from the clinics where students can help individuals with free legal help while learning how to practice law, Drake has amazing connections with Polk County and neighboring communities.”

  With the success of the clinic, there have been talks about another clinic of the same type, according to Shelton.

“We hope to put together another LGBTQ+ legal clinic this spring,” Shelton said. “Some alumni who helped with the event came to me and asked if they could host their own LGBTQ+ legal clinic in different areas of the state, especially in rural areas, where there has been a real lack of legal support for the group.”

Shelton made it clear that Drake Law will continue its support for human rights.

“This is not a one-off thing for us,” Shelton said. “This is who we are as an institution.”

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