Students Organize Name Change Legal Clinic for Transgender Coloradans

Published: April 25, 2017
Organizers of the Name Change Clinic Deborah Cantrell, Jordan Blisk, Amanda Bauer, Colene Robinson, and Carrie Armknecht outside the Wolf Law Building

Those seeking to legally change their name in Colorado must submit to a long and complex series of forms, background checks, fees, and more—all of which can be can be intimidating to those unfamiliar with the legal system. For members of the transgender community, added fear of harassment and judgment often prevents them from starting the process at all. To help ease the burden for transgender Coloradans, University of Colorado Law School students Jordan Blisk (’18) and Amanda Bauer (’17) planned, organized, and conducted a free name change legal clinic at the University of Colorado Law School on Sat., April 15. More than 25 people attended to start the name change process.

“I am transgender myself, and I had a difficult time completing my own legal transition due to the complexity of the process and harassment by court officers,” Blisk said. “I went to law school, in part, to become a legal advocate for the transgender community, and this was my first opportunity to use my status as a law student to create tangible good for others. This clinic was designed to ease one burden for my community and give them a safe, professional, cost and time effective solution to what is often seen as a prohibitively complex process.”

"I went to law school, in part, to become a legal advocate for the transgender community, and this was [an] opportunity to use my status as a law student to create tangible good for others."

For more than six months, Blisk and Bauer worked closely with Associate Professor and Director of Clinical Legal Education Deborah Cantrell to create the training materials and coordinate logistics needed to make the name change clinic a success—all on their own time. With the assistance of Emma Shinn, founder of the Colorado Name Change Project, they created easy-to-use packets of court forms, guidelines for volunteer attorneys and student attorneys, and follow-up instructions for transgender clients. They also arranged for free passport photos and expedited fingerprinting for clients.

“I have heard from many that they put off the process for years due to fear or lack of available information, and seeing so many walk out smiling (or even crying from) greatly impacted me,” Blisk said.

In addition to the 10+ student attorneys who volunteered at the clinic, several lawyers from the community also attended to help provide advice, guidance, and supervision to student attorneys. One such volunteer was Allison Daley (’16), a legislative and policy associate at Colorado Counties, Inc.

“It was encouraging to see the reaction of other Colorado Law students and alumni who were so generous and enthusiastic in volunteering their time for the clinic (and hopefully future clinics, as well!),” Blisk said.

Clinical Professor and Co-Director of the Juvenile and Family Law Program Colene Robinson was also on-site at the clinic to assist student attorneys with providing focused advice and guidance to minor clients and their families. Clinical Programs Manager Carrie Armknecht notarized a plethora of documents for free, saving all of those clients the potential notary fee.

“The most valuable part for me was seeing how many people we were able to help through an arduous and difficult process,” Bauer said. “As one woman was leaving on Saturday, she was moved to tears because she was able to do so much in one day that could take weeks in normal circumstances. I am so grateful that we were able to help some people through this process.”

In addition to transgender clients, the clinic also saw several parents come in who were interested in supporting their transgender children through the name/gender marker change process.

“What made me most proud was the way in which our clinical space provided a welcoming and respectful space for folks in our community who may too often be met with negative or disrespectful attitudes,” Cantrell said.  “This event really highlights a core mission here at Colorado Law—to be a supportive, diverse, and inclusive community.”

PICTURED (L-R): Deborah Cantrell, Jordan Blisk, Amanda Bauer, Colene Robinson, Carrie Armknecht