Professor Debbie Bell’s belief in the value of the University of Mississippi School of Law’s 10 legal clinics inspired her planned gift to support the program that gives students real-world experience representing clients.
“The clinical programs have been my passion at the law school. Starting and participating in them is the one thing of which I am most proud,” Bell said. “It’s been exciting to see the law students represent their first clients and impact those clients’ lives.
“Our law students make a real difference – whether keeping a client safe from domestic violence or saving someone from an eviction. The clinics help fulfill a need in Mississippi and give the students an opportunity to serve.”
Since 1992, Bell has dedicated countless hours to the clinical programs, from obtaining the grants that started the Civil Legal Clinic to serving as the first associate dean of clinical programs when the clinics expanded and were combined.
“The clinical programs have been a part of my life for so long; it’s hard to imagine not being involved in some way,” she said. “A planned gift seemed the next logical step. It was a way to continue to support the professors who are carrying on the work and the students who will come through the clinics.”
After earning an undergraduate degree at Mississippi College, Bell chose Ole Miss for law school. Afterwards, she moved to Atlanta, Georgia, where she clerked for Judge Elbert Tuttle of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals and then practiced law with the Legal Aid Society. Soon, a teaching position at the law school called her back to the state.
“Teaching never gets boring because you are constantly challenged and inspired by your students. I still really enjoy it after 38 years,” Bell said.
Soon after she began, however, Bell became frustrated with the lack of practical lawyering experience for students.
“Law schools across the country were opening clinical programs. When I discovered what other schools were doing, I got excited from a pedagogical standpoint. It was a great way for students to learn by doing but with a safety-net since they had their professors to offer supervision.
“Through the clinics, the students are trained to assist people in areas where representation is most needed and lacking. In addition to practical training, we hope that they will be committed to helping others after they complete their law degrees,” Bell said.
The clinical program now includes the Child Advocacy Clinic, Criminal Appeals Clinic, Elder Law Clinic, George C. Cochran Innocence Project, Housing Clinic, MacArthur Justice Clinic, Street Law, Tax Practicum, Transactional Law Clinic, Pro Bono Initiative and the Clinical Externship Program.
“Almost without exception our clinic students tell us year in and year out that their clinical experience was the best and most rewarding aspect of their law school education,” said Tucker Carrington, associate dean of clinical programs. “The students’ praise is really directed more at our clinical philosophy, at the merging of theory and practice and toward their experience of being a real lawyer for the first time.”
The residents of Mississippi also benefit from the clinical programs.
“Professor Bell is aware of the need for more legal assistance throughout the state and also understands the importance of gaining practical experience for her students. She brought together the civil clinics at the law school with our ongoing free legal clinics, and we have been extremely pleased with the results. We are indebted to Professor Bell for her vision and her generous spirit,” said Honorable Chancery Judge Jacqueline Mask of Jackson, Mississippi.
“We have at least nine court-annexed legal clinics a year throughout the court district where I serve as chancellor,” she continued. “Through Professor Bell’s leadership, law students from Ole Miss have regularly assisted with these clinics. Their enthusiasm for the practice of law and passion for doing good is truly an encouragement. They also bring a level of expertise with technology that is vital to improving the efficiency of legal services.”
Residents outside of the courtroom also are served.
“The tax practicum, for example, has assisted thousands of residents in Lafayette County over the years in preparing their income tax returns,” Bell said.
Bell’s planned gift gives her membership in the 1848 Society, named for the year the university opened the Lyceum doors to its first students. The society recognizes generous donors who thoughtfully provide for the university through planned and deferred gifts.
Tax-deductible gifts can be made via check to the University of Mississippi Foundation, with UM School of Law Clinical Programs written in the memo line, and mailed to 406 University Ave., Oxford, MS 38655. Contributions can also be made online at https://give.olemiss.edu.
For more information about supporting the UM School of Law, contact Suzette Matthews at email@example.com or call 662-915-1122.
By Mary Stanton Knight