by Linda F. Smith
Jensie Anderson entered the U of U law school in 1990 hoping to develop a career that made a difference to people and to the law that affected them. She has done so, many times over, through her pro bono efforts.
During her second year Jensie enrolled in the Civil Clinic Shelter & Support Program1 in which U law students worked with Utah Legal Service lawyers providing outreach and legal service to the homeless. Each week supervised students interviewed people at soup kitchens and shelters, giving some referrals and advice, but accepting others for full representation. She soon became an expert at interviewing and advising clients with mental illness, since so many of them had been denied Social Security Disability benefits. All the students and lawyers wondered – how in the world did this clearly mentally ill person get denied? The students enjoyed winning these hearings before ALJs, but Jensie persisted in seeking the problem in the system.
Jensie analyzed dozens of individual cases in which benefits had been denied but then granted after hearing. Together she and Senior Attorney Mike Bulson identified a number of systemic problems with the way the state agency evaluated cases. Then they filed a class action lawsuit. This case was ultimately settled in favor of the poor clients and they received hundreds of thousands of dollars of back-benefits.2
After graduation, Jensie entered private practice. But she continued to go to her homeless outreach site each week,3 giving poor individuals free advice, particularly about criminal and disability matters. Jensie next accepted a position at the ACLU and served as its lawyer for two and a half years; She then re-entered private practice, accepting court-appointed criminal defense cases and social security disability clients.
Most recently Jensie has joined the faculty at the S.J.Quinney College of Law where she teaches legal writing, oversees the criminal clinic, and supervises current students who work at Utah Legal Services. However, she has continued her pro bono work in still more vibrant and complex ways. In addition to serving on the board of Cornerstone Counseling Center and KRCL Community Radio, Jensie is a founding board member and current board president of the Rocky Mountain Innocence Center.4 This private non-profit agency represents individuals with provable claims of innocence in Utah, Wyoming and Nevada and Jensie is directly involved with all its cases. Jensie’s unflagging eagerness to represent those otherwise without a voice is unparalleled.
1.The program was funded as a clinical program by the Legal Services Corporation, Inc. but all funds were paid by the U of U to Utah Legal Services. LSC no longer funds any clinical programs for law students.
2.This case, Goodnight v. Chater, was ultimately handled by pro bono volunteer lawyer Brent Manning because ULS was required to withdraw as counsel when Congress prohibited a federally funded program from bringing class actions. Today there is no program in Utah able to handle such a class action for the poor when a systemic problem is discovered.
3.Jensie is still doing outreach to the homeless – now on a twice-a-month basis – establishing perhaps the most long-standing student-pro bono project .
4.RMIC was founded by the late Professor Lionel Frankel in 1999.