Jasmine McCleary, Class of 2024, has been selected as the first Public Interest Law Clerk for the Legal Clinic at the University of Tennessee College of Law.
The new Public Interest Law Clerkship provides a second-year law student who excels in a clinic course and plans to pursue a career in a public interest field with a $10,000 stipend. This funding supports a full-time summer job in the Legal Clinic and ten hours of work each week during the third year of law school.
“Creating a position that helps students interested in public interest work develop the lawyering skills necessary to land a competitive public interest job post-graduation was exciting to me,” explains Margaret Behm (UT Law ’76). Behm saw the Legal Clinic as the perfect training ground to expose students to various practice areas and complex legal issues.
To achieve this goal, Behm recruited four other Tennessee College of Law alumni – Wendy Goggin (UT Law ’76), Retired U.S. Magistrate Judge Juliet Griffin (UT Law ’78), and Robert Tucker (UT Law ’74) – to join in a combined gift of $10,000 to fund the position.
Jasmine McCleary fit the vision for the Public Interest Law Clerkship perfectly. She applied to law school with a passion to help people and through her work in the Advocacy Clinic last spring, she put that passion into practice.
“Jasmine is the type of student who is curious. She digs deep into legal issues, identifies a range of options, and cares tremendously for her clients,” says Professor Sherley Cruz, who supervised McCleary in the clinic.
McCleary and her clinic partner, Kate Lemon, developed strong relationships with their clients, used police body camera footage to craft a creative Fourth Amendment suppression argument, negotiated with prosecutors, and ended the semester with dismissals on all of their criminal and juvenile cases.
“During my semester in the clinic, I gained the practical skills necessary to solve legal problems,” says McCleary, “but most importantly, I provided my clients with a sense of hope.”
Her summer work allowed McCleary to immerse herself in all facets of client representation, to deepen her legal knowledge and skills, and to gain greater insight into the intricacies of the criminal legal system and how it impacts the lives of her clients.
Professor and Legal Clinic Director Joy Radice says that the clerkship also expands the clinic’s capacity.
“Knowing that a summer law clerk can assist with cases allows clinic professors to take on more clients with complicated legal issues throughout the semester,” says Radice.
McCleary aspires to be a public interest lawyer, specifically in criminal defense, and she is thinking deeply about the path she will take.
“Working in the clinic has allowed me to give back to a community I care about,” McCleary explains. “I have witnessed firsthand, through a close family member, the difference a skilled defense attorney can make. It was a relief knowing that someone was fighting for him. I am developing my lawyering skills and confidence so I can be the best advocate for my clients, providing them with the representation I would want for myself or my family.”
Although she has roots in Kentucky, McCleary spent many summers in Knoxville with her family and hopes to begin her public interest legal career in Tennessee when she graduates.
Jasmine McCleary (UT Law ’24) (right) and her clinic partner Kate Lemon (UT Law ’24) getting advice from Mike Whalen (UT Law ’97) about their client’s criminal charges.