On February 6, 2018, the UMKC School of Law celebrated the annual Judge John W. Oliver Fellowship Program Luncheon. A few of the past recipients and the newest recipient, Dakkota Huber (J.D. ’17), discussed the value of the assistance and the future of public interest work.
The Oliver Fellowship Program encourages highly qualified UMKC School of Law graduates to pursue post-graduate careers in public service despite the dual disincentives of low salaries and high student debt. Thanks to the generosity of family and friends of Judge John W. Oliver, a leading jurist who served on the federal bench in Kansas City from 1962 until his death in 1990, the Oliver Fellowship Program provides loan repayment assistance (up to $5,000 over three years) to one graduating law student from each class. The Program is funded by the Judge John W. Oliver Foundation, a donor-advised fund of the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation.
Robert Levy, who served as a law clerk to Judge Oliver from 1971 to 1973, believed Oliver had an enormous personal impact on everyone he knew. Oliver cared about young people and he wanted young lawyers to get the personal value that comes from serving others. Levy spoke at the luncheon and told anecdotes of how the judge taught him that lawyers and judges are the only line of defense for some people.
“We needed a generation that understood what John Oliver stood for,” he explained in creating and perpetuating the Program. “And it’s important to carry on his legacy.” Levy closed with a quote from the Bible, in encouragement to those who seek to pursue public service, “‘I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.’”
Some of the previous recipients of the loan assistance program were invited to speak at the event and advised current law students on why loan forgiveness programs and the Oliver Fellowship Program are so important when investing in being a public servant.
Lindsay Runnels (J.D. ’09) was the first recipient of the Program and is now the Associate Clinical Professor over the Innocence Project Clinic at UMKC. She spoke after Levy on the impact of the program and how it made her more comfortable managing that first loan payment and got her through the initial post-graduate nerves.
Each recipient reiterated the fear of pursuing a career in public service, when loan payments can be intimidating, the work rewarding, and the pay low, and how the Program allowed and encouraged them to comfortably follow their passion.
Peter Hoffman (J.D. ’12), another recipient, followed Runnels. Hoffman works at Legal Aid of Western Missouri as a Staff Attorney for Community Development and Supervisor of the Adopt-A-Neighborhood Project. Through Adopt-A-Neighborhood, Legal Aid partners with local private law firms and focuses on low-income neighborhoods in Kansas City. A large portion of the project involves representing the neighborhoods in lawsuits against the owners of abandoned properties. Peter’s work was recently highlighted in the latest issue of Res Ipsa.
“It’s an exciting time for students who want to invest in public interest,” Hoffman said. “Grant funders are looking for people who want to be creative.”
JoEllen Flanagan Engelbart (J.D. ’15), now an Assistant Prosecuting Attorney for the Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office, as well as Abby Judah (J.D. ’16) echoed similar sentiments and emphasized the peace of mind that came with the Program’s assistance.
“I was terrified about how to pay my bills, but this program allowed me to do what I love,” Judah says. What’s more, “UMKC is great at connecting people with public service opportunities.”
Finally, Interim Dean Barbara Glesner Fines introduced the 2017 Oliver Fellows recipient, Dakkota Huber (J.D. ’17) and discussed how this program is not about the money; it’s about the caring and passion for public service.
“Seeking justice isn’t always easy to do,” Glesner Fines says, “and it is not the well–traveled path.”
Dakkota Huber demonstrated a strong commitment to public service, both in her capacity as a future attorney and in general community service which made her an ideal candidate for this program.
She has a history of taking on leadership roles for organizations with a philanthropic focus and volunteering her time and efforts to improve the community as a whole. In law school, Huber interned at the Social Security Office of Disability Adjudication and Review, the Missouri Commission on Human Rights, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Missouri. During her last two semesters, Huber realized she wanted to become a prosecutor while working at the Clay County’s Prosecutor’s Office.
Huber couldn’t speak enough to the reward of working in public interest, and how, when she was a first year law student, she never imagines she would be the one who would be the latest awardee for the program. It’s not just about winning a case, Huber explained.
“You feel proud because you made a difference in someone’s life,” she said.
Huber served as the Vice President and President of PILA and on the leadership board of Phi Alpha Delta while attending UMKC Law. Through these activities and internships, Dakkota achieved Honors status in the Pro Bono/Public Service Honors Program by logging 362 service hours (283.25 of which counted for credit in the Program) and received the Dillingham Award for commitment to public service. Although she intends to later pursue a position as a prosecutor, Huber is currently in a clerkship position with Judge Trout at the 16th Circuit Court of Jackson County, Missouri.