Willie Epps Jr.
LAWRENCE — Area high school students with legal aspirations should remember that a strong support system is as crucial today as it was 50 years ago for legendary Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall.
“None of us got where we are solely by pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps,” he famously said.
Students will get a taste of law school and the legal profession during the 16th annual Thurgood Marshall Law Day, which honors Marshall’s pioneering efforts in the field, at the University of Kansas School of Law. The event is scheduled from 10 a.m. to 1:45 p.m. Friday, Feb. 24, in Green Hall.
Each year, KU’s Black Law Students Association brings together diverse high school students from Kansas City to discuss contemporary law topics and hear from notable speakers. Willie Epps Jr., a partner at the law firm of Shook, Hardy & Bacon and a former captain and judge advocate for the U.S. Air Force JAG Corps, will deliver this year’s keynote speech. He is a trial lawyer focused on complex civil and criminal cases, has been named to the Missouri and Kansas Super Lawyers in the practice areas of personal injury defense and criminal defense, and serves on the teaching faculty for Harvard Law School's Trial Advocacy Workshop.
Though many aspects of the legal profession have evolved since Marshall’s tenure, wisdom and encouragement remain timeless.
“I never turn down the opportunity to speak to young people,” Epps said. “After all, so many community leaders, neighbors and teachers took the time to mentor and advise me during my formative years. I would not be a trial lawyer today but for their love and support.”
In addition to Epps’ talk, this year’s event will also feature a “What Are Your Rights?” activity, a panel discussion and an optional tour of the law school. All students who attend the event have an interest in law or public service and are outstanding citizens at their respective schools.
Born in 1908, Thurgood Marshall graduated magna cum laude from Howard University Law School after first being denied admission to the University of Maryland School of Law because of its segregation policies. Marshall went on to successfully argue in Brown v. Board of Education and served as chief counsel of the NAACP. In 1961, he reached a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit before eventually gaining an appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court, where he spent 24 years.
The Black Law Students Association is an active participant in the law school community, coordinating many outreach events throughout the year. Its Thanksgiving Food Drive annually feeds hundreds of local families through food and monetary donations that BLSA members solicit from students, faculty and staff. In the spring, BLSA either hosts or supports the annual Diversity in Law Banquet, and the organization also spearheads fundraising activities for professional development and community outreach.
The University of Kansas School of Law has admitted women and students of color since its inception in 1878.