Pivoting with excellence: Law students and alumni unite to provide remote services to health care workers

January 12, 2021

by Frank Garza

From left, Sara E. Dysart (B.A. ’74, J.D. ’81), Mary Stich (B.A. ’78, J.D. ’81) and Faye Bracey (J.D. ’81),

Several St. Mary’s Law students and alumni joined an effort by the San Antonio Legal Services Association (SALSA) to draft wills for health care workers battling COVID-19 on the frontlines in San Antonio this summer.

Though they couldn’t meet with clients in person, third-year J.D. students Georgia-Beth Blue and Katarina Kretz adapted.

They had to send the paperwork over and follow up if the health care workers had questions or hadn’t yet submitted the information. It could be difficult scheduling times to talk because the workers often had hectic schedules, Blue said.

“Remote work is definitely a unique experience. I finished my spring internship remote, so I had limited experience working with clients remotely,” Kretz said. “Because everyone understood we were in uncharted territory and that we are all in this together, it aided in making the transition more seamless.”

It was also a fulfilling experience, Blue added.

“These people were risking their health to help all of us in the community,” Blue said. “To be able to give a little back to them is truly rewarding.”

Faye Bracey (J.D. ’81), Sara E. Dysart (B.A. ’74, J.D. ’81) and SALSA board member Mary Stich (B.A. ’78, J.D. ’81), dove deeply into volunteer recruitment and client coordination for this project. The trio met in law school and remained friends.

“When I think about all the volunteers and the way we leaned-in together, it was like we were leaning in together in law school again,” Stich said of her experience working with Bracey and Dysart. “There is a bond we have that allowed us to do some good as part of a broader team of volunteers.”

The three alumnae recruited more than 300 volunteers to the project in the course of a week. Bracey also acted as a program director. Dysart, in addition to taking cases, wrote thank you notes to volunteers.

Because of their efforts, the project was able to prepare more than 500 wills and ancillary documents for frontline health care workers. Bracey and Dysart will be awarded the President’s Award on Thursday, Jan. 28, during the SALSA Spirit of Service Awards.

SALSA alleviated stress for people who otherwise may not have been able to find a lawyer to draft a will during the pandemic, Bracey said.

“Lawyers are dedicated to ensuring access to justice, which means legal representation for everybody, but the reality is that lawyers are very expensive,” Dysart said. “When you think about people who are financially challenged, how do they get legal services? It’s those kinds of needs that SALSA and other pro bono legal organizations address.”

More about how the St. Mary's University School of Law community responded to the pandemic:

Pivoting with excellence: All-star professor leads the way for national virtual advocacy competitions

The day that A.J. Bellido de Luna, J.D., Hardy Director of Advocacy and Service Professor, was supposed to cancel the St. Mary’s University School of Law’s Lone Star Classic for the fall, three other advocacy competitions had been canceled.

Pivoting with excellence: Law assistant dean forges new digital connections

In some ways, going virtual has made it easier for the Office for Law Student Affairs to meet with students, said Alan K. Haynes, J.D., Assistant Dean for Law Student Affairs. Setting up meetings with students before could be difficult, especially if they lived outside San Antonio. Even if it’s just a conversation, Haynes will use Zoom instead of the phone to talk to the student.

Pivoting with excellence: Law associate dean hones sense of gratitude through online transition

This fall, Ramona L. Lampley, J.D., Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Professor of Law, kept students engaged through a hybrid of synchronous and asynchronous components, coupled with multiple assessments and a flipped classroom model.

Pivoting with excellence: Law associate dean brings legal topics into focus through online instruction

Even before COVID-19 hit, Colin P. Marks, J.D., Associate Dean for Graduate and Summer Programs and Ernest W. Clemens Professor of Law, was certified to teach classes online. So, when he pivoted his approach mid-semester last spring, his students continued to learn through short video lectures with quizzes and a once-a-week Zoom session to discuss learning objectives and questions.

Pivoting with excellence: Law externship director helps prep students for virtual practice

Hustling to move the law school’s Externship Program online by summer, Amanda Rivas (J.D. ’09), Director of Externships, said her main focus was on supporting externship supervisors and externs as they switched to remote working environments, ensuring that students would continue to receive challenging work and feedback.

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