Ann Miller and Rochelle Belobraydic
Successful with WSI Appeal
Rochelle Belobraydic and Ann Miller have noble visions for their respective futures. They attribute their passion for civil rights law to their experience as student attorneys in the UND School of Law’s Clinical Education Program. Both third year law students at UND, Belobraydic and Miller believe that the Clinical Education Program (“the Law Clinic”) has prepared them for a life devoted to serving others through the practice of law.
The Law Clinic is an academic program designed to guide students’ development as professionals as they put legal theory into practice. Like other Law Clinic students, Belobraydic and Miller became certified by the North Dakota Supreme Court to represent clients in actual legal matters under the supervision of the two law school professors who teach in the Law Clinic. With the passion, drive, and motivation to work toward a law degree, both students desire nothing more than to give back to their communities by utilizing the experiences and education they have acquired from UND. Focusing on housing and employment litigation, the Law Clinic has provided these two students with the opportunity to represent clients who otherwise would not have representation in cases involving housing discrimination, sexual harassment in employment, landlord/tenant disputes, and Social Security Disability controversies, among other matters.
Last semester, Belobraydic and Miller also worked on the judicial appeal of a final determination by Workforce Safety and Insurance (“WSI”). By the time this particular case came to the Law Clinic, the client had already begun the process of appealing the agency’s final decision to the district court. At issue was a WSI decision to use a permanently disabled woman’s wage benefits to offset the cost of her assisted living expenses. With little more than a week to draft and file what ended up being a 27-page brief, Belobraydic and Miller, along with case team members Garrett Ludwig and Chris Lindblad, assumed responsibility for every aspect of the representation—interviewing the client, conducting legal research, engaging in factual investigation, and drafting the brief. Once the brief was filed, the case team actively prepared for oral arguments by participating in numerous mock hearings and fielding questions from their fellow Clinic classmates and faculty. Their tireless efforts paid off when, following oral arguments made by Clinic students and by the Nilles Law Firm on behalf of WSI, the court issued an opinion ruling that WSI could not use the client's wage benefits to offset the cost of her assisted living expenses.
Belobraydic believes “the case essentially boiled down to a question of statutory interpretation, and we were able to convince the court that WSI’s interpretation was incorrect and, as such, that our client was entitled to her benefits.” Miller said the experience was a team effort. “The case was really amazing. Rochelle and I couldn’t have done this without Garrett and Chris. I’ve never been a part of anything like it.” Ludwig and Lindblad graduated shortly after the case was decided and are each now in private litigation practice in Bismarck, North Dakota.
The Law Clinic has been an important aspect of both Belobraydic’s and Miller’s legal education. According to the students, the Law Clinic has offered them an opportunity to practice law in a supervised and guided setting before graduating, an experience both agree has been invaluable.
Belobraydic said the public’s perception of the Law Clinic and what students actually do in the Law Clinic are very different. “Many people don’t understand that the Law Clinic is a functioning public interest law office and that the students are more than just mere law clerks. We are Certified Student Attorneys and represent our clients just as any attorney would.” For Miller and Belobraydic, remaining positive when challenged about their student status has been important. Beloraydic said, “Taking the high road always improves the legal profession.”
Miller said winning the WSI case was significant for the students of the Law Clinic. “We are students, but we’re doing exactly what other attorneys are doing. Winning this appeal showed we are capable of doing just that,” she said.
Belobraydic added the case was not so much about winning than it was about the quality of work that was put into it. “The professionalism that we demonstrated in every instance, whether it was in dealing with our client or the opposing counsel, really reflected positively on the school and the caliber of students UND is putting out,” she said.
The Law Clinic is an elective course to which interested students apply for admission. Students work together in case teams and are responsible for managing their own cases under the supervision of Clinic faculty. Miller described the Law Clinic case team structure as a law firm within a law firm. “We get constant feedback from each other, getting direction from one another. We are charged with handling the day-to-day work on each of our cases, whether that means drafting a letter or brief, performing factual or legal research, taking a deposition, meeting with a client, or appearing in Court,” she said. The Law Clinic primarily serves clients who cannot afford private attorneys and, while the Law Clinic is able to recover statutory attorneys’ fees where available, no payment of fees is made by the clients. “We are not associated with Legal Aid, but we have a similar clientele,” Miller said. Belobraydic said she feels lucky to have benefited from the experience of working for these clients in the Law Clinic, “I really respect the Clinic’s mission.”
Miller, originally from Moorhead, Minnesota, said she will graduate in May and move to Minnesota to practice law. Miller graduated from the University of St. Thomas with a degree in Political Science and a minor in Psychology. She said that she has always known that she wanted to be a lawyer. “I’ve known I wanted to go into law since I was a kid. My goal is to hopefully work with people who cannot afford private attorneys.” Miller credits the Law Clinic experience for preparing her for her future career. “We do a lot of reflective work in Clinic. It has made me realize the kind of clients I want to work with and it has made me into the kind of lawyer I want to be.”
Belobraydic is originally from Hagerman, Idaho, and graduated from the University of Idaho with a Bachelor’s degree of General Studies and minors in History and Geology. After graduation, Belobraydic moved to Muncie, Indiana, where she worked at the Muncie Area Career Center, the community’s vocational high school. Working at the career center influenced Belobraydic’s decision to come to law school. “Knowing that helpful programs like those offered at the career center were in constant jeopardy of being cut, made me appreciate even more the impact a good advocate can have.” Belobraydic plans to move to Colorado following graduation and to pursue a Master’s degree in social work. “I feel that the combination of a law degree and Master’s degree in social work is a really good blend for the type of work I hope to do.”
To Miller and Belobraydic, memories of the successful WSI appeal will be with them for a long time to come. As was true of their other Clinic cases, representing this client was a manifestation of Miller’s and Belobraydic’s values. Both students want to use their legal education to serve others who are not able to afford their own representation. “We really felt passionate about this case. This was a real woman with a real problem. She was so appreciative,” Miller said. The students felt that the case helped them learn the importance of the law and how it affects others, “It gave us a sense that we were doing something good. We felt that we really made an impact in this person’s life.”
by: Theresa Rerick