by Jennifer R. Lloyd
(This piece ran as part of a series honoring the 25th anniversary of the St. Mary’s University School of Law clinical programs .)
From inexperienced undergraduate to seasoned alumna, the Hon. Karin Crump (J.D. ’97), Presiding Judge of the 250th District Court in Travis County, credits the civil justice clinical program for the significant role it played in her transformation.
“The Civil Justice Clinic really gave me the opportunity to meet members of our community who were going through the hardest times of their lives, who were truly desperate to have a voice and who otherwise wouldn’t have had that voice, with matters that were … life altering — their children, their homes and their livelihoods,” Crump said.
While she and her classmates were providing legal services to clients in need, she said the clients helped the law students tremendously in their own way.
“They gave us the experiences that we would otherwise not have had before graduation, the real, hands-on courtroom
and trial experiences that so few lawyers receive before they’re licensed,” she said.
Though Crump said she interned at the Bexar County District Attorney’s Office and several law firms, “it was at the clinical program that I believed best trained me for my first job as a lawyer.”
Crump recalled her supervising attorney at the clinic asking her if she was willing to take a case that would require a lot of effort. Up for the challenge, Crump was greeted with boxes and boxes of materials related to a case seeking to terminate parental rights. The case involved a family of four in which the mother was accused of burning her daughter with an iron and the father was accused of knowing about the abuse but not intervening. Their son was not directly abused but observed it. Crump represented the children’s aunt, who had been caring for them for several years.
“We knew that it was in the best interest of these kids to live with this aunt who had been taking care of them so well,” said Crump, but, at the time, the case presented a unique legal challenge because the father had not directly abused the children and the son had not been directly abused.
Crump had the chance to argue the case before the Fourth Court of Appeals, which upheld the trial court’s decision to terminate parental rights. Eventually, the aunt adopted the children, and the case influenced Texas law. She also still thinks about that family and how their lives would have been different if the clinic had not been there to take the aunt’s case.
The experience prepared her for her first position with a Dallas firm. The firm had enough confidence in her advocacy abilities that she was sent to her first trial the day she became licensed. She eventually opened her own practice and then became a mediator before being elected to the bench in 2014.
As a judge she deals with landlord-tenant issues, divorces, name changes and other cases similar to those of the clinical program.
Many of those who come before her now are cases that remind her of the clients she represented at the clinic.
“It helps me every day to think back on the clinical experiences and remember how hard it is to go through that.”