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Remembering Professor Angela McCaffrey


Hamline University School of Law Clinical Professor and Clinics Director Angela McCaffrey's long battle with cancer ended on Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at her St. Paul home. She was surrounded by family, including her husband Mark Cosimini and their sons Mike and Charlie, along with extended family members and close friends.

Professor McCaffrey served as an adjunct faculty member with the Civil Litigation Clinic at William Mitchell and as staff attorney at Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services (SMRLS) before coming  to Hamline in 1985.  She also supervised the administration of the 300-member Ramsey County Volunteer Attorney Panel at SMRLS.

She was named clinical director at Hamline in 1987. Professor McCaffrey was promoted to a full clinical professor in 2006. "It was traditionally thought that clinical professors couldn't contribute to scholarship because of the demands on their time," says Professor Peter N. Thompson. "Angie was able to do this. During the past ten years she became an accomplished scholar. Her promotion to full clinical professor was in recognition of her professional standing." 

While a scholar, she also emphatically believed that the study of law must be accompanied by the opportunity to apply learning to the real world of people with problems. "The study of law is more than what is learned in textbooks," she noted a few years ago. "It is how a practitioner translates the written word into practice."

It was a lesson she taught by example.

Professor McCaffrey touched many lives and mentored and inspired many people--students, clients, faculty and staff members, and members of the local legal community among many others--during her 25 years at Hamline, and through her earlier legal work and ongoing community volunteerism.

Professor Mary Jane Morrison spoke for many when she said, "Angie's kindness and perseverance will never be forgotten."  Professor Carol Swanson noted, "No one could have faced these hard health challenges with more courage, dignity, grace and even humor. She is a tremendous role model for all of us." Associate Dean Marie Failinger recalled that Professor McCaffrey "treated everyone with dignity." Former SMRLS colleague Steve Wolfe said, "Angie's good work continues...she has brought about lasting change, in part because she is such a good person that she makes others want to be good people and do the right thing."

Alumnus Dustin Bower '07, who served as student director of the unemployment clinic during his years at Hamline, said Professor McCaffrey "gave me inspiration, courage and hope. She taught me that there's a good way to live your life and it involves helping other people and not being so centered on yourself. She also showed me that it's not as hard as I thought to help other people."

Retired attorney Ken Tilsen recalled that Professor McCaffrey had written an appellate brief in 1975 while a student at William Mitchell. The case involved several Black Panthers. "In almost 60 years of practice, I can tell you that was the most perfect brief that I have ever seen written by any student." Tilsen, a former adjunct professor at Hamline, became friends with Professor McCaffrey over the years. "Every time you spent time with her you came away feeling happier, like you had a little more bounce in your step."

While she battled cancer for nearly a decade, Professor McCaffrey continued to teach and direct Hamline's 10 legal clinics. She also wrote and published professional articles on the history of pro-bono in Minnesota, and the value and methods of teaching law clinics. She also wrote about how to teach law students to work with interpreters and was a frequent CLE presenter on that topic. In 2008 an article she co-authored with Anne Juergens, Roleplays as Rehearsals for "Doing the Right Thing"--Adding Practice in Professional Values to Moldovan and United States Legal Education was published in the Washington University Journal of Law and Policy.

Despite her busy professional schedule, she always made time for the many former students who visited, along with various students she supported as a host parent over the years through Macalester College. One special Macalester student, Westenley Alcenant formerly of Haiti, thanked Professor McCaffrey "for saving me and for fighting every day to make sure I could find a place in this make something of myself." He pledged to dedicate his diploma to her when he graduates later this year. (Details of how Professor McCaffrey and Hamline's General Practice Clinic worked on behalf of Westenley is described in the Advocate story below.)

Professor McCaffrey's legacy of excellence, compassion and passionate commitment to pro bono work will not be forgotten. A scholarship in her name is being established by Hamline University. Details about how to contribute will be forthcoming. The story below first appeared in the spring 2007 edition of The Advocate.

Faculty Focus: Professor Angela McCaffrey 

The hardest job Hamline Clinical Law Professor Angela McCaffrey ever had was teaching 36 rambunctious fifth graders at a small private Catholic school in Iowa. She earned $6,000 a year and had to live at home with her parents. Despite the challenges, she was able to use many progressive teaching ideas that she had garnered from studying educational psychology as an undergrad.

Yet Professor McCaffrey wanted to do something more. She decided to leave teaching and attend night classes at William Mitchell, while working during the day at the Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services (SMRLS), a public interest law firm serving low-income persons. Juggling full-time work and law school classes, including some taught by then William Mitchell Professor Peter Thompson, was intense but she felt prepared.

"Law school was a breeze after teaching fifth grade for one year at St. Aloysius," she says with a smile.

Her decision to go to law school was driven, in part, by her family history. "My Mom lived in Germany under Hitler. She lost a sister to that dictatorship and her family ultimately was displaced. Law was important to me because I understood the horrors that can occur when the rule of law is replaced by a dictatorship intent upon annihilating innocent people."

After earning her law degree she was an adjunct professor at William Mitchell before coming to Hamline University School of Law in the fall of 1985 to teach a general practice clinic. She was named clinical director in 1987. Since then, Hamline's clinic program has grown to include nine clinics (with two more in the offing) under Professor McCaffrey's able leadership.

"Hamline's clinical program exemplifies the essence of our student centered and community focused approach to lawyering," says Dean Jon Garon. "Professor McCaffrey embodies every ideal of Hamline and the profession. It shows in our clinics and in everything she touches."

Hamline students earn three credits for clinic participation, which includes two hours of class per week and a requirement of 70 hours of client work for the semester. Most importantly, students have the opportunity to represent clients, who lack the means to hire an attorney, under supervision of an experienced faculty member or adjunct instructors, many of whom are Hamline alumni.

For Professor McCaffrey - who is responsible for the overall management of the nine clinics, classroom instruction in the Trial Practice Clinic and direct supervision of students representing clients - teaching and managing Hamline's clinics allows her to combine her two greatest passions: equal access to justice andeducational excellence.

Professor McCaffrey's passion is contagious. Natasha Martin ‘3L, who recently participated in the Trial Practice Clinic, said the experience led her to choose employment law as a career path. "Professor McCaffrey is a very inspiring person and she inspires hard work," Martin says.

"Professor McCaffrey is the most positive person I've ever worked with," adds Shantal Marshall ‘3L. "No matter how much pressure we were under she could think of alternatives and stay optimistic. She also is very supportive of students."

Colleague (and former William Mitchell professor) Peter Thompson concurs: "Angela McCaffrey is the most positive person you'll probably ever meet. If there's a good side to something, it will be foremost in her thoughts."

Professor Thompson credits her "flawless administrative skills," which has included generating nearly $1 million in grants, for the success of the clinics. "She's quiet but persistent," he says, "and she's dogged when it comes to advocating for her clients."

That trademark persistence and optimism were instrumental in the recent reunion of a family torn apart by war. Westenley Alcenat, whose father was brutally murdered by Haitian soldiers when he was just six years old, longed to come to the United States. He dreamed of being reunited with his grandparents who had been forced to flee Haiti or face a similar fate as Westenley's father. While he waited, enduring a series of unimaginable horrors at the hands of a brutal military dictatorship, he learned he had an "angel" working to make his dreams come true: Professor Angela McCaffrey.

Professor McCaffrey and many former Hamline students in the General Practice Clinic worked for close to 10 years to help Westenley reunite with his grandparents in Minnesota and become a U.S. citizen. Westenley met Professor McCaffrey a few weeks after he arrived in the United States at age 10. "I finally got to meet this person who was like an angel to me. She was so warm and welcoming, and she promised to never stop working for me until everything was straightened out and I became a citizen," Westenley recalls.

Professor McCaffrey made good on her word. Westenley Alcenat became a U.S. citizen in 2005. 

"I'm excited about reuniting families who were split apart by war," Professor McCaffrey says. "I'm also excited about inspiring students to do pro bono work and to be compassionate lawyers."

She sets a good example. In addition to her many responsibilities as director and clinical professor at Hamline, Professor McCaffrey finds time to serve as conciliation court referee in Ramsey County District Court and to do extensive community volunteer work. She also has served as a host parent since 2002 for Macalester College students from Cyprus, Jamaica, Japan, India and Sri Lanka.