LAWRENCE – D.C. Hiegert, a 2021 graduate of the University of Kansas School of Law, will serve as a 2022 Skadden Fellow.
Considered the most prestigious and competitive award for public interest law graduates, Skadden Fellowships provide two years of funding for lawyers pursuing public-interest law projects of their own design. Hiegert is one of 28 judicial clerks and graduating law students across the country to receive a Skadden Fellowship.
During the fellowship, Hiegert will work with the ACLU of Kansas to provide direct representation, community education and policy advocacy for LGBTQ+ Kansans to enforce and strengthen state and federal legal protections. The multi-faceted project will include advocacy around antidiscrimination protections, and impact litigation to expand or solidify legal protections for LGBTQ+ people, Hiegert said.
“When I came to law school, that’s what I wanted to do with my law degree – to find a way to do LGBTQ+ advocacy in the Midwest,” Hiegert said.
Hiegert started developing their fellowship project proposal as a student at KU Law. In October 2019, Hiegert co-founded the Gender Marker and Name Change Project at KU. The GMNC Project, operating within the KU Legal Aid Clinic at Green Hall, provides pro bono legal representation for transgender and nonbinary individuals as they seek affirming gender marker and name changes in Kansas.
“As I was interacting with clients in the clinic, I was hearing a lot about, outside of their ID documents, problems they were facing in their lives,” Hiegert said. “And a lot of it came down to discrimination, whether that was in housing, whether that was in their health care experiences, whether that was in schools.”
Hiegert started talking with Sharon Brett, ACLU of Kansas legal director, about the potential for a fellowship project that would focus on strengthening and enforcing LGBTQ+ legal protections. Brett is an adjunct professor at KU Law, teaching Social Justice Lawyering. Hiegert said they look forward to partnering with the ACLU’s legal and policy teams to bring the project to fruition.
“The ACLU is a great organization to be partnered with on a project like this that looks at LGBTQ+ advocacy with a holistic lens, where you’re not just trying to attack the problem from one angle,” Hiegert said.
Hiegert will start the fellowship in the fall after completing a one-year judicial clerkship with Judge Jacy Hurst of the Kansas Court of Appeals. Hurst is a 2007 graduate of the KU School of Law.
As a law student, Hiegert spent their summers and final semester working with advocacy organizations including the National Center for Lesbian Rights in San Francisco; the National Center for Youth Law in Oakland, California; and the National Health Law Program in Washington, D.C.
“I was able to see a lot of what LGBTQ+ advocacy looks like and learn a lot from really experienced attorneys,” Hiegert said. “But the goal was always to take my experiences at those organizations back to Kansas.”
Hiegert, a Kansas native, is the second KU Law graduate in the past two years to receive the highly competitive Skadden Fellowship. Their project will be the second Kansas-based Skadden project. Ellen Bertels, a 2021 KU Law graduate, is a member of the 2021 class of Skadden Fellows. Bertels is working with Kansas Legal Services to provide pro bono representation to transgender and nonbinary Kansans undergoing legal identity document corrections. Hiegert and Bertels received the 2021 national PSJD Pro Bono Publico Award for their work launching the Gender Marker and Name Change Project at KU.
Hiegert thanked professors Meredith Schnug, Kyle Velte, Sharon Brett and Alex Platt for their support through the fellowship application process, as well as KU Law’s Career Services Office.
Looking toward the future, Hiegert plans to stay in Kansas and continue working on LGBTQ+ advocacy after their two-year fellowship is complete. Ideally, their Skadden project will act as a catalyst to grow the ACLU of Kansas’ capacity for LGBTQ+ advocacy, building on existing work in the area.
“I really love Kansas. I think it’s a unique and fun state, and I know that there is a really rich and vibrant queer community here,” Hiegert said. “I’m excited to continue to be a part of it and continue to do the work to make it a beautiful place for LGBTQ+ people to live.”