GEORGETOWN, Ky. – By the time Megan McKay stepped foot inside NKU Chase College of Law in August 2012, she already had her eye on the prize – to become a trial attorney. Yet since completing a battery of rigorous substantive legal courses, skills courses including trial team, and field placements with the Fayette County Commonwealth Attorney’s Office and the Kentucky Supreme Court, becoming a trial attorney is no longer enough for Megan. Now, she wants to become an advocate. Today, as this Georgetown College graduate prepares to enter her third and final year of law school, she celebrates her first win at the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals and is well on her way to becoming a trusted advocate for her clients.
Megan credits her undergraduate years at Georgetown College for giving her the foundation and confidence to pursue law as a career. “Going to Georgetown College was one of the best decisions I made in preparing me to go to law school,” she said via email recently. “The faculty at Georgetown were always willing to sit down and discuss any issue that I might have (had), whether it was an issue I didn’t understand or reviewing an exam with me.” She added she found the situation much the same at Chase but noted that it was an environment to which not all of her now-current classmates were accustomed.
“The most important way in which Georgetown prepared me for my time at Chase was by teaching me to never settle,” she stated, crediting “exceptional” Georgetown professors (Dr. Melissa Scheier, Political Science; Dr. Rick Kopp, Biology; among others) for inspiring her to never give up. “There were distinct times during my years at Georgetown when it would have been easy for me to settle, but with my professors’ guidance and advice, as well as my family’s, I didn’t.”
Megan says that what was instilled in her then has carried over into her legal education. “There have definitely been times when I could have given up because that would have been easier,” she confided. “I didn’t (give up) because with mentors like the ones I had at Georgetown I decided that was not how I was going to live my life. I will never forget them for that.”
At the urging of Kentucky Supreme Court Justice Michelle Keller (Chase ’90), Megan originally enrolled at NKU Chase to earn course credit in the Constitutional Litigation Clinic where she would have a chance to represent prisoners and former offenders in Ohio state and federal courts. The Constitutional Litigation Clinic, housed in the Ohio Justice & Policy Center (“OJPC”) in Cincinnati, Ohio, offers eight Chase students experience handling all aspects of civil rights cases, from client interviews through trials and appellate brief writing and argument.
Executive director of the OJPC and NKU Chase Law Professor David Singleton revealed, “I really love helping law students get the confidence they need to hit the ground running, by becoming practice-ready by the time they graduate. There is no substitute for live client experience.” When asked about working with and mentoring Megan, he shared, “Simulation is helpful and students can learn a lot from those experiences. But seeing that she can do it, and do it well and even win, will be the confidence she needs to carry with her for the rest of her life. She has the skills. That’s what keeps me going.”
Though Megan McKay was not scheduled to begin work in the clinic until this fall and is still a year away from being eligible to sit for the bar exam, NKU Professor David Singleton selected Megan to parachute into the clinic this summer to present an oral argument on behalf of the OJPC and client, Phillip Cordell, before a three judge panel of the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Phillip Cordell filed suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that Deputy Sheriff Glen McKinney ran afoul of the Constitution’s guarantees under the Eighth Amendment when he slammed Cordell, who was hand-cuffed and restrained, headfirst into a concrete wall. The district court rejected Cordell’s suit, granting summary judgment and qualified immunity to Deputy McKinney. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed, holding that a genuine dispute as to several material facts exists, and if Cordell’s version of events is credited, a reasonable jury could conclude that Deputy McKinney inflicted serious pain upon Cordell with malicious and sadistic intent.
“On June 25, 2014, I argued before the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of my client, Mr. Cordell. I thought that was the best day of my life,” exclaimed Megan, “until July 16, when I read the opinion reversing the District Court’s decision in favor of my client, Mr. Cordell – that was the best day of my life! I advocated for someone before the court and I made a difference.”
“The formula,” said Dean Jeffrey A. Standen, “of combining live-client experiential learning opportunities with tenure-track law professors with a passion for teaching is apparently working. The students in the Constitutional Litigation Clinic have won three out of four oral arguments before the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.”