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Peter Hoffman, a third-year law student, volunteers at Legal Aid of Western Missouri through the UMKC School of Law.

Finding his calling

Law student improves community through Legal Aid

Although he went to work for a boutique beer company -- a dream job for many college students -- Peter Hoffman experienced a lack of satisfaction that even money could not silence.

Still unsure what direction to take,he enrolled at UMKC's School of Law. At a school-sponsored career fair, Hoffman -- now a third-year law student -- had a chance encounter with a Legal Aid of Western Missouri attorney. He found not just his work, but his calling.

About a dozen UMKC law students volunteer at Legal Aid, assisting supervising attorneys in cases involving such issues as family law, housing, domestic violence, consumer rights and migrant law. Cases that are handled in Hoffman's sector, Economic Development, require persuading landlords or neglectful homeowners to comply with the safe, decent and legal standards other neighbors expect and deserve, thus preserving existing businesses and neighborhoods.

Barbara Glesner-Fines, faculty advisor and associate dean of the UMKC School of Law, said that interactions between students and their Legal Aid clients can be unforgettable experiences. Students quickly learn that appearances are deceiving, that sometimes clients just need a receptive listener, and that -- despite a stoic exterior or downcast eyes -- clients are grateful.

Most of Hoffman's work comes from homes associations anxious to have the blighted, hazardous properties in their area either rehabilitated or demolished, if necessary. This work combines Hoffman's interest in environmental law and land use with strong communities. He will attend the Henry W. Bloch School of Management, adding a Master of Public Administration non-profit degree to his portfolio before heading back home to St. Louis to search for similar opportunities.

"UMKC's School of Law emphasizes public service, and I have to believe that this is what being a lawyer is all about," said Hoffman. "If I can help a neighborhood remain economically healthy and independent, then I'll be content."

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"UMKC's School of Law emphasizes public service, and I have to believe that this is what being a lawyer is all about. If I can help a neighborhood remain economically healthy and independent, then I'll be content."

Peter Hoffman
Third-year law student