Washburn Law Celebrates Women's History Month: A Message from Dean Pratt

As we embark upon Women's History Month, I am compelled to acknowledge that it is truly an honor to be the first woman to serve as dean at Washburn University School of Law. The law school has a long history of preparing women for the practice of law, enrolling the first women as early as 1903. That tradition continues and is stronger than ever. The class that entered Washburn Law this past August was for the first time in our history, predominately women, and the newly elected Editor-in-Chief of the Washburn Law Journal is a woman.

We are very proud to be contributing to the diversity of the legal profession, and for us diversity extends beyond gender and ethnic identity to students with rural identities who will return to rural areas and serve those underserved communities. Toward that end, we will be strengthening our recruitment of students from rural Kansas and rural communities bordering Kansas in an effort to help fill the need for lawyers in rural America.

After taking a tour of rural Kansas last semester, I learned from our alumni practicing throughout rural Kansas that they have to turn potential clients away because they simply cannot handle more work. They also shared that rural communities need lawyers not only for legal representation of people living in rural communities, but also to serve as leaders in rural communities in the areas of business and local government.

After hearing these messages, it was clear to me that Washburn's Rural Legal Practice Initiative which started under Dean Romig's leadership, is very important to Kansas, and that we need to strengthen and expand it. I am very proud of the work being done by students, staff, faculty and administrators at Washburn Law to help mitigate the lack of access to lawyers in rural Kansas. For example, our Rural Legal Practice Initiative partners with Kansas State University to introduce K-State students to law and the legal profession with programming aimed at providing insight concerning the varied experiences of rural practitioners. Dean Shawn Leisinger conducts outreach to rural communities by providing continuing legal education to rural practitioners and supervising students in rural externship placements.

As a public law school, Washburn has a responsibility to produce lawyers and leaders who will serve the entire state of Kansas, not just the urban areas. To fulfill that obligation, Washburn will seek to expand its Rural Legal Practice Initiative by creating a pipeline component that reaches deeper into the pipeline to high school students throughout rural Kansas to teach them about the need for lawyers in their communities and the path to becoming a lawyer.We will also seek to partner with more colleges in rural Kansas to find students with an interest in law who want to live and work in rural Kansas.

Because student loan debt is an often cited barrier to a young lawyer establishing a practice in a rural area, we will also seek donors to establish a Loan Repayment Assistance Fund for law school graduates who practice in a rural area in Kansas for a period of years after graduating. Finally, we will work to expand our externship opportunities for Washburn law students so that more students have exposure to rural legal practice before they graduate.

Ensuring access to justice in rural communities in Kansas and beyond will remain a salient part of Washburn Law's mission. Our vision with the Rural Legal Practice Initiative is to recruit and educate future lawyers who will become leaders and residents of underserved rural communities so that "justice for all" extends to even the most remote parts of Kansas and the rural mid-west.

Carla D. Pratt
Dean and Professor of Law
Washburn University School of Law

Photograph: Dean Carla D. Pratt.

Carla D. Pratt
Dean


Dean Pratt talks about the impact education has had on her life and how law has a role in shaping higher education (3:43 minutes).
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Dean Pratt talks to "TopLawSchools" about Washburn Law's student life, academics, admissions process, career opportunties, employment outcomes, and more.
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