Adjunct Faculty Share Time and Talents with Next Generation

Practicing attorneys, most of whom are alumni, volunteer their time and expertise as adjunct faculty for the School of Law

In 1895, the UMKC School of Law was founded by volunteer attorneys. Today, practicing attorneys, most of whom are alumni, volunteer their time and expertise as adjunct faculty to prepare the next generation of attorneys. 

During Spring Semester 2022, more than 35 attorneys served as adjunct instructors for the School of Law, teaching courses that ranged from federal trial practice to estate planning to disabilities and the law.

The generosity of adjunct faculty allows the School of Law to offer more courses for students than most larger law schools. This also means that the student-faculty ratios in these courses are often quite low — about 12:1 — so students have an opportunity to develop strong mentoring relationships with local practicing attorneys.

Throughout the 2022 academic year, volunteer adjunct faculty generated 1,301 student credit hours. Adjuncts taught or co-taught with more than 900 total enrollments across the courses. Considering that no adjuncts teach in the first-year program, Dean Barbara Glesner Fines estimates the average upper-level student is taking at least two-and-a-half courses with adjunct professors. UMKC Law is recognized as a top school for practical skills training. Fines comments, "a big part of that is the expertise and experience our adjuncts bring to the classroom."

Adjunct faculty can enrich all aspects of the school’s curriculum. Many enjoy teaching in the law school’s innovative “mini-term” courses. Offered in an intensive one-week format between regular semesters or over Spring Break, these one credit-hour courses may introduce students to a specific area of practice. Course examples include: State and Local Government Law in a Nutshell, taught by Steve Moore (J.D. ’77); or Introduction to Workers Compensation Law and Practice, developed by Joan Klosterman (J.D. ’88) and the Honorable Lisa Meiners (J.D. ’96).

Other mini-term courses explore a very specific problem in law and give students hands-on training to address those issues in practice. For example, Paul Anderson (J.D. ’12) established a course focused on concussion litigation, just as society was first becoming aware of the problems caused by sports concussions. He currently teaches a course in Missouri marijuana regulation. Mira Mdivani (J.D. ’99) and Danielle Atchison (J.D. ’14, MBA ’19) train students to help businesses obtain visas for international personnel. In alternate semesters, they guide students through the skills necessary to represent immigrant victims of domestic violence. Kendall Seal (J.D. ’08) explores the problem of human trafficking with his students.

“As far as I know there is only one other law school in the nation, the University of Cincinnati, whose alumni and community members all volunteer as adjuncts,” Glesner Fines said. “Given the competitive market for top talent, adjuncts may see their teaching as a recruitment opportunity for their law firms. Volunteer teaching fulfills most of an attorney’s requirement for annual continuing education, saving that expense.”

“But these reasons are not what keep adjuncts coming back to the classroom year after year,” she continued. “Probably the most common reason adjuncts teach is because they simply enjoy interacting with students and view their teaching as a way to fulfill the duty all attorneys have to provide pro bono service to the profession. Others see teaching as the best way to stay current and hone their expertise in their field, making them better attorneys.”

Some adjuncts teach their courses for decades. Adjunct Professor Jim Wyrsch (LL.M. ’73) first taught his Criminal Trial Techniques class in 1981. He was assisted in early years by the Hon. Charles Atwell (J.D. ’78) and soon after by his law partner J.R. Hobbs (J.D. ’81). Wyrsch and Hobbs still offer the course today.

Some of the school’s most highly ranked programs were originally staffed by adjunct faculty under the supervision of a single full-time professor. The nationally ranked Trial Advocacy Program was limited to only 12 students each year until UMKC Law alumni, including Tim Dollar, approached Dean Jeffrey Berman to advocate for an expanded program. Today, a team of 13 adjunct faculty members teach the Trial Advocacy I course under the direction of Professor Michaelle Tobin. The Family Law Program, ranked in the top four nationally, benefits from dedicated alumni who teach the Family Law Practice course. Clinical Professor Mary Kay O’Malley supervises this course, taught by a team of nine adjuncts; the course was first developed by adjunct professor Betsy Ann Stewart (J.D. ’67).  

Glesner Fines said some clinic-based programs require a significant time commitment from volunteer adjuncts.

“Not only do the faculty have to train the students in the doctrine and skills," Fines says, "they then have to take on actual cases for clients and supervise students representing those clients.”

One example is the Abandoned Housing Clinic, founded by Adjunct Professor David White (J.D. ’82). Students in the clinic represent the Kansas City Land Bank, clearing property titles so the city can move them to productive uses. Currently that clinic is directed and taught by Adjunct Professors Brandon Mason (J.D. ’16) and Angelo Banks (J.D. ’19).

Glesner Fines is grateful for the contributions of her adjunct faculty. “I’m so proud of their willingness to step up and take on this big job.”

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Published: Aug 4, 2023

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