Nebraska Law receives new gift to fund 80 annual scholarships, Children’s Justice Clinic

By: - June 27, 2023 8:30 am

Lancaster County Juvenile Court Judge Reggie Ryder presides in a simulated courtroom for the College of Law Children’s Justice Clinic in this 2021 photo. (Craig Chandler/University Communication and Marketing)

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to include additional comments from Nebraska College of Law Law Dean Richard Moberly.

LINCOLN — A new gift to the University of Nebraska College of Law will provide approximately 80 annual scholarships and permanently fund the law college’s Children’s Justice Clinic.

Duane and Phyllis Acklie (Courtesy of UNL)

Lincoln philanthropist Phyllis Acklie pledged the gift through the Acklie Charitable Foundation, which she established with her husband, Duane Acklie, a 1955 Nebraska Law graduate who died in 2016.

“The education from the College of Law has had a monumental impact on multiple generations of our family, and there is no question we feel passionate about Nebraska Law, and how we believe it is currently shaping Nebraska’s next generation of leaders,” Halley Kruse, the couple’s granddaughter and a 2014 College of Law alumna, said in a news release.

Kruse, who is the vice president and director of the family’s foundation, said the impact of the education her grandfather received at Nebraska Law “cannot be overstated.”

Phyllis Acklie in 2021 established the Duane W. Acklie Honor Scholarship Fund, to provide annual scholarships to aid Nebraska high school graduates from rural areas who are pursuing a Nebraska Law degree. 

The family also provided the lead gift in 2009 for a classroom wing named in Duane Acklie’s honor.

Annual scholarships

The pledge will establish the College of Law Leadership & Scholarship Fund, prioritizing scholarships over the next nine years for Nebraska residents. It will annually fund 15 full-tuition scholarships for in-state students and 65 half-tuition scholarships, most designated for Nebraska residents. 

During the most recent academic year, Nebraska residents made up 55% of the College of Law’s enrollment. Full-year, in-state tuition for the upcoming year is approximately $12,600.

The pledge will also support the Nebraska Public Interest Law Fund, which provides stipends for second- and third-year law students working for a government or public interest organization in law school.

The gift will also fund travel awards for Nebraska Law students.

Children’s Justice Clinic

The Acklie family’s gift will permanently endow the Children’s Justice Clinic, which launched in 2017 to provide legal representation to vulnerable Nebraska children.

University of Nebraska College of Law Professor Michelle Paxton is the director of the Children’s Justice Clinic. (Craig Chandler/University Communication and Marketing)

The release states that third-year law students, as part of the clinic, serve as guardians ad litem in Lancaster County Juvenile Court under the supervision of law professor Michelle Paxton. The students advocate for the best interests of children in the legal system. 

Many cases involve family situations that include domestic violence, neglect, unsafe housing and substance abuse.

“Children are our most vulnerable population, and they need a fighter in their corner,” Paxton said.

“Right now, there is a shortage of high-quality attorneys to represent children in juvenile court because the traditional law school experience does not provide the training and support you need to be effective,” she added. 

The pledge will also create the College of Law Clinics Endowed Support Fund and provide support for any future Nebraska Law clinics as well as the college’s six other clinics: the Housing Justice Clinic, Criminal Clinic, Civil Clinic, Immigration Clinic, Weibling Entrepreneurship Clinic and Estate Planning Clinic.

‘Deepest collective commitment’

The Acklie family is the largest donor in the College of Law’s history based on the new gift and past contributions. The foundation requested the commitment amount remain confidential.

University of Nebraska College of Law Dean Richard Moberly, at left, and University of Nebraska-Lincoln Chancellor Ronnie Green. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)

Nebraska College of Law Dean Richard Moberly said it is the largest single gift in the college’s 132-year history.

“We are honored they continue to believe in our mission to develop inclusive leaders and are especially grateful for the support our students and programs will receive through this most recent gift,” Moberly said.

Moberly told the Nebraska Examiner that students graduating with as little debt as possible is important, and the gift will support students of all backgrounds to find a home in the college and earn living stipends as part of their law education.

University of Nebraska-Lincoln Chancellor Ronnie Green, who is retiring this week, said the Acklie family’s previous and continued support has led to library and classroom updates, “cutting-edge curriculum development” and one-of-a-kind experiential learning.

Green said the Acklie family’s support is “simply immeasurable.”

“Theirs is the deepest collective commitment to Nebraska’s flagship university,” he added.

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Zach Wendling
Zach Wendling

Zach rejoins the Nebraska Examiner after studying abroad in Antigua, Guatemala, following a yearlong Examiner internship. His coverage focus areas have included politics and government, health and well-being and higher education.