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MC School of Law Demonstrates Adoption Clinic’s Effectiveness by Assisting One of Its Own

Minutes after successfully completing Lainey's adoption, parents Matthias Krenn and Emily Stanfield savor the moment with their new daughter and Judge Tametrice Hodges, right.
Minutes after successfully completing Lainey's adoption, parents Matthias Krenn and Emily Stanfield savor the moment with their new daughter and Judge Tametrice Hodges, right.

Emily Stanfield was in a dentist’s chair when she received the text that changed her life.

The third-year law student at Mississippi College always had a soft spot for children. As an adopted child, she had worked with many foster children enrolled in the Refill Jackson Initiative, a nonprofit organization she helped start that equips and motivates young adults to enter the workforce and become self-sufficient.

After that experience, she and her husband, Matthias Krenn, a research scientist in the Department of Neurosurgery at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, became licensed to serve as foster parents. Glancing at her smartphone, she realized it was the message the couple had been waiting for and politely asked the dental practitioner for a break.

“It happened just like our social worker at Child Protective Services said it would,” Stanfield recalled. “You get a phone call or a text that says a baby is available. It said, ‘We have a one-month-old. Can you accept?’”

The overwhelming joy she felt quickly gave way to anxiety when she couldn’t reach her husband, who was busy at work. Stanfield knew she and her husband weren’t the only potential foster parents that would be contacted. She also knew how much she and her husband wanted to foster a child. So, she called her mother instead.

“She and I decided we would accept the baby,” Stanfield said.

After informing the social worker of the decision, she left a message with her husband’s boss.

“I said, ‘When you find the chance, could you please let him know that I’ve accepted a foster child?’”

She had received the text message at 2 p.m.; the social worker arrived at her house with the special delivery by 4. That was how the couple was introduced to little Elaine Krenn, whom they call Lainey. Stanfield, who was in the midst of interning at the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office, had become a foster mother instantly.

“There’s no way you can prepare,” she said. “You have to sign up for age blocks, and we had signed up for 0 to 5. A 0-year-old’s needs are different from what a 5-year-old needs. My parents had come over to help us receive the baby, so we left our child with them and immediately went out and bought diapers, formula, and other supplies.

“Like a lot of parents who have biological children, it was definitely love at first sight. She was kind of stunned, which was understandable. She was like, ‘What’s going on? These people and voices are new to me.’ But we were stunned, too. ‘What do we do with a baby?’ We immediately had to start thinking about emergency child care and things like that.”

Like many young parents, the couple soon realized that if it were possible to choose their own children, Lainey would be their first-round selection.

“She is very flexible and adaptable and always happy,” Stanfield said. “She’s a great kid. I don’t know how we lucked out.”

It wasn’t long before the new parents recognized they wanted to adopt their new bundle of joy. Stanfield knew exactly where to turn – her classmates and faculty in the School of Law at MC.

Crystal Welch, associate clinical professor at the Mississippi College School of Law, said Stanfield is the first sitting law student at the school to be represented by MC Law’s pro bono legal clinic to attempt to adopt a foster child through the Department of Child Protection Services.

Welch, who teaches adoption and clinical courses in the school’s Family and Children’s Law Center, said MC Law’s pro bono clinics – including its adoption clinic – provide access to justice to members of the community in need of legal representation.

“We are able to offer this to the public free of charge because these clinics are staffed by our law students who are legally trained and educated to provide some legal services,” Welch said. “They are supervised by faculty members. Although they are not compensated financially, the students receive academic credit for their work.”

The Mississippi Department of Child Protection Services refers cases where foster parents wish to adopt children to MC Law’s Adoption Clinic. MC Law students educated on Mississippi statutes governing adoption law and termination of parental rights in the clinic are sworn into limited practice.

The students conduct client interviews, get to know the families seeking adoption, draft legal documents, file pleadings with the court, secure court dates, and represent the adopting families. Whenever adoptions are granted, they apply for the children’s new birth certificates that reflect the adoptive parents’ information and match the new family’s name.

“The law students get to exercise their legal training and obtain some actual courtroom experience,” Welch said.

The Adoption Clinic is not MC Law’s only pro bono offering. The Family Law Department also contains the Guardian Ad Litem Clinic and the Youth Court Clinic. The school offers the Mission First Legal Aid Clinic, the Education Law Clinic, and the Veterans Law Clinic, too. Some of these are not available every semester, but the Adoption and Youth Court Clinics are offered year-round, including the summer.

Welch said while law students provide the bulk of the staffing for these clinics, the quality of the services is unmatched.

“Justices often comment that the work product they receive from our clinical students is more sophisticated than what they receive from licensed attorneys who are veterans in the legal field,” she said. She pointed to a recent Youth Court case in which MC Law students submitted a motion. “Even the prosecutor was impressed by the work product and stated that the motion looked more sophisticated than most of those they receive from other experienced attorneys.

“Comments like that make me proud because they show the students take their work seriously and that they’re not doing this just to receive credit – they have a passion for and commitment to the work. They don’t have to take these clinics. They could choose other courses. But they’re doing it because they want to have the opportunity to practice law.”

Since professional lawyers don’t always choose to practice adoption law or youth court law, MC Law’s clinics receive plenty of requests for information about these topics.

“Many attorneys, judges, and elected officials who aren’t familiar with the laws regarding adoptions or youth court come to us, and our law professors and students educate them,” Welch said.

While fostering Lainey, Stanfield conferred with Shirley Terry Kennedy, director of child advocacy and director of the Family and Children’s Law Center at the MC School of Law, about what the adoption process might be like.

“She was enormously helpful,” Stanfield said. “That’s when I decided to work with MC Law’s Adoption Clinic. Even though my fellow students would be working on the adoption, I trusted the clinic. A licensed attorney supervises it so that nothing goes wrong.

“It felt nice to go through the process with people I already knew.”

One of Stanfield’s classmates on law review with her presented the case before the judge on Aug. 2. The process took only about 20 minutes. Once the gavel fell, the 39-year-old nontraditional law student had a new title: mother.

“I had thought about going into law when I was in high school, so it’s been on my mind for a long time,” she said. “But you know how life is: an opportunity comes up, and you follow it, and other things happen. I’ve worked for a long time in international human rights. I’ve lived in New York, worked at a non-profit there, and then moved to Washington, D.C., and worked at the State Department. Then, I decided to do something a little closer to home, and that’s when I helped start the non-profit in West Jackson.

“Through it all, I became interested in the law again. I saw time and again how so many young people don’t have the safety net of a family to provide stability for them. I wanted to figure out what I could do in the legal profession to help.”

As an older student, Stanfield said she’s grateful for the opportunity to return to school and obtain her law degree. Adding an infant to the mix would ordinarily expand the degree of difficulty, but she doesn’t think it requires too much of a juggling act.

“I love law school,” she said. “I’m happy to be in a position where I can stop my life and concentrate on earning my degree. It helps that I was accustomed to working 8-to-5, and I’m lucky to be in my second year and not the first – I don’t know how people with kids survive that first year.

“I’ve been able to treat it like a job, where I can be with my daughter in the evenings. I go to class during the day, then wash clothes, clean the house, and study at night. My husband has been amazingly supportive – it’s a partnership.”

Stanfield’s instructors and classmates have been another source of support. Many were in the courtroom when Lainey officially became her daughter.

“It was such a sweet moment,” Welch said. “She had her family there, she had her MC Law student family there, and Dr. John Anderson, dean of the law school, and Jim Rosenblatt, dean emeritus of the school, were present as well. In addition, the judge, Tametrice Hodges, is an MC Law alum who is also a foster parent.

“There has been no greater honor for MC Law than to have the Adoption Clinic handle this adoption for one of its students.”

Following the adoption, the law school hosted a reception, where faculty and students welcomed Lainey – whom they nicknamed “Ladybug” – into the MC Law family.

“It was emotional,” Stanfield said. “In some ways, it’s sad, because what happened to our daughter is not the way families are supposed to be. You hope children are born into families who take care of them. It made me think of how my biological mother wasn’t able to take care of me, and her biological mother wasn’t able to take care of her.

“At the same time, I’m very thankful that my husband and I are in a position to take care of her and love her, and that we wanted a child in our lives. So, it was bittersweet.”

Thanks to an assist from the MC School of Law, Stanfield will enjoy her first Christmas as a parent. She has already accepted a position with Bradley Arant Boult Cummings LLP, a civil litigation firm in Jackson, once she obtains her juris doctor from MC.

“The fact that the School of Law at MC offers clinics like the Adoption Clinic shows leadership has seen what the needs are in Mississippi and is willing to provide pro bono assistance in those areas,” Stanfield said. “It shows they understand the role of a law school in the community, which is not only to instruct students who are going to make nice salaries one day, but to provide experiential learning that exposes them to areas of the law they may not have considered while helping others in need.

“It’s a wonderful service on many levels.”

As for Lainey?

“She’s doing fantastic,” Stanfield said. “She’s already starting to talk and make her opinions known.”

Just like a junior attorney.

For more information about the Mississippi College School of Law’s Adoption Clinic, click here.