A team of twelve volunteer attorneys worked with staff from BYU Law School and J. Reuben Clark Law Society to coordinate a pro bono expungement clinic on Friday, November 13. Together, the clinic served forty clients in the State of Utah by reviewing their files to determine whether they were eligible for expungement under the Utah Expungement Act.
The Act provides guidelines that allow certain people with criminal records to apply for expungement and the chance for a clean slate. Those who qualify have their criminal records sealed from the public and can proceed as if the criminal record never existed. Doing so can be life-changing, opening up a host of housing and career opportunities that would otherwise be challenging, if not impossible.
“As a former judge who has had thousands of defendants stand before me in court, it was a great experience to be working as a defense attorney again,” said Claudia Laycock (BYU ‘85), a retired judge from the Utah State Fourth District Court, who was one of several BYU Law alums who participated as volunteer attorneys. “This expungement project provides so much relief to defendants who have changed their lives and need the reward of a clean record to truly move forward.”
Laycock shared that her most rewarding experience of the day was calling one of her clients to tell her that she qualified for expungement. “She was ecstatic to hear the news, but also happily tearful. Her assault conviction from her youth had kept her from getting meaningful employment for more than two decades. She viewed this process as a door to a much better future.”
Thanks to the guidance of Professor Susan Griffith (BYU ‘87), students from BYU Law School also volunteered alongside the attorneys. Clinics such as these provide law students with hands-on experience working with a licensed attorney and interacting with clients. Laycock noted that working directly with students was also a meaningful part of the clinic for her, sharing that the law student was “pumped to see how much she could help a client with a problem.”
Clinic organizers aimed to create pro bono opportunities for all attorneys, no matter their expertise. To do so, they included training and access to volunteer attorneys who practice criminal law and have expertise in the expungement application process.
Volunteer attorney Laurie Haynie (BYU ‘85) was reluctant to participate at first because her legal background is in copyright and trademark law, not criminal law. After the experience she was glad she volunteered, noting “the program provided excellent training and support, and it was good to be able to take part in something that will enable people to move forward without a criminal record.”
Danielle Dallas (BYU ‘07), another volunteer attorney, was also enthusiastic about her experience. “The combination of working with BYU Law students, interacting with the clients, and having real-time access to seasoned attorneys to round out my competency in this area of law was so fulfilling,” she explained. “The clinic was well organized, which made me feel that my time was respected. I plan to be one of the first attorneys to volunteer when the opportunity arises again.”
The Law Society will continue to host expungement clinics in the Utah area, as well as assisting interested local JRLCS chapters to organize their own clinics and other pro bono opportunities in their own areas. Expungement and reintegration remains one of the Law Society’s most meaningful service and outreach priorities.