There is a reason that Suzanne M. Kissock is trying to make “Introduction to Law” a basic general education requirement course.
“We believe it is so important in America today that you understand the Constitution and the basic notions of our systems of government and justice,” she said. “Because people don’t know that, they are vastly uninformed and the arguments that occur are really without adequate information.”
Kissock sees it as higher education’s purpose to ensure students have that information. As chair of the legal studies, criminal justice and social work department at Missouri Western State University where she’s worked since 2005, she’s in a good position to make sure they learn it.
“I love educating people about their rights and responsibilities with regard to the law and creating informed, empowered citizens,” said Kissock, who is also director of the Legal Studies Program.
A native of St. Louis and a graduate of Saint Louis University School of Law, Kissock admits that she never planned in law school to be a professor or an academic, but she notes that it is a good blend of experience for her present work. That work isn’t always confined to campus either. She still serves as a guardian ad litem in court when necessary, sometimes on a pro bono basis.
“I was the first in my family to go to college. I realized how important it is that an individual is informed and engaged in their rights and responsibilities,” she said. “I really do believe that you are at a great disadvantage if you are in the segment of society who is afraid to go to the courthouse, who is afraid to go see an attorney.”
Still, under Kissock’s guidance, the department is also dedicated to making sure that those who don’t have an attorney can still use the system. It runs a pro se divorce clinic and a similar operation for transgender individuals who want to change their documentation.
“We are trying to increase access to justice which is a critical issue in the legal profession,” said Kissock, a recipient of the Jesse Lee Myers Excellence in Teaching Award in 2009. “Today, a lot of the public that needs it doesn’t have access to the court.”
The department’s Legal Assistant Program is the only one approved by the American Bar Association at a public university in the state of Missouri.
The university also holds a child-abuse prevention conference every year, an issue that Kissock believes is important. She once worked for the 5th Circuit juvenile court as well as a public defender at the state level.
It is all part of her mission to help others.
“I thought I would be doing that through the traditional means of litigation, but it has taken many, many forms,” she said. “I find myself really with the same mission of helping people, but once you are in the system, you realize where the need lies and hopefully respond to that and do it in any way that you can.”