College offers law students financial relief during COVID-19

The University of Tennessee College of Law is helping address the needs of students who are facing unanticipated financial struggles as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Several recent graduates and current students planned to begin summer jobs in May, but an uncertain economy forced some employers to postpone start dates or even rescind offers.

Other students were forced to move in with their parents to share expenses due to reduced work hours. And some students haven’t had the money they need to afford healthcare.

“The stories from our students about what they have been facing is disheartening,” College of Law Dean Melanie Wilson said. “We want our students to grow from the challenges of law school and become incredible lawyers and citizens, but some of the challenges resulting from COVID-19 have been overwhelming for them. Our goal is to assist when and where we can.”

Under the leadership of Director of Advancement Ellen Cole, the College of Law began working in March to develop an emergency fund to raise money for students in need.

One of those students, 2L Justin Hilliard, found himself unemployed at the end of March because of the stay-at-home order. He began to struggle financially but couldn’t commit to full-time work until classes were completed. 

“When the lockdown came, I just wasn’t in a good place,” he said. “I depended on that money to pay my rent and my utilities.”

As one of two children from a single-parent home, he couldn’t rely on parents to help him supplement his income. He applied for and received financial assistance from the College of Law and was able to remain in his apartment until he could find a job.

“This really has meant a lot to me. This can be really dehumanizing,” Hilliard said. “It shows me that I’m more than just a student number or a GPA. They looked at me as a person, and I’m incredibly grateful.”

Since Cole began reaching out to alumni and donors to inform them of student needs, the response has been generous. Alumni contributions and a grant from AccessLex Institute helped the College of Law raise more than $30,000. To date, those gifts have helped 22 students. But more needs exist.

Those who wish to give can make a gift to the College of Law by directing it to the emergency student fund. You may also contact Cole for more details. 

“It has been so inspiring to see our alumni come together to support our students in this way,” Wilson said. “I’m so incredibly gratified to see people open their hearts. UT Law alumni are true Volunteers.”