Recently retired Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Helen Meyer and her husband business executive Bill Bieber have created a $1 million endowed chair at William Mitchell College of Law in child protection.
The Justice Helen M. Meyer Chair in Child Protection is dedicated to advancing the protection and best outcomes for children and families in the legal system. In addition to the gift, Justice Meyer and Bill Bieber have created a matching fund of $500,000 for additional gifts to the chair.
“William Mitchell is now in a unique position to take a leadership role in teaching, interdisciplinary research, policy and legal system reform for the protection and well-being of our children,” said President and Dean Eric Janus, “and I am deeply grateful for Justice Meyer’s and Bill Bieber’s vision and commitment. I have seen the powerful influence of faculty who, when they have the resources, are able to increase awareness and understanding of societal needs and bring together the broader community to begin to address them.”
The endowed chair is one of only a few in the country dedicated to creating a legal system that protects and facilitates the well-being of vulnerable children.
The ultimate goal of the gift, according to Justice Meyer, is to help children by strengthening families. “Resolving problems and keeping families together helps children, it helps society, and it’s the right thing to do,” she said. “We need to take what we know about kids and families and then develop best practices for lawyers, lawmakers, and judges. The bottom line is that we want the best advocates, well-trained and equipped, who can help parents resolve the problems that brought them into the courts in the first place.”
Since graduating from Mitchell in 1983, Justice Meyer has dedicated much of her personal and professional life to advancing child protection. During her 10 years of service on the Minnesota Supreme Court, she served as chair of the Minnesota Judicial Council’s Workgroup on Legal Representation of Parents in Child Protection Cases and as the court’s liaison to the Judicial Branch’s Children’s Justice Initiative. In 2010, she and Bieber created the Child Protection Clinic at William Mitchell, which is aimed at training law school students to effectively represent parents in the courts and child protection system.
The Justice Helen M. Meyer Chair in Child Protection has been awarded to Nancy Ver Steegh, Mitchell’s Associate Dean for Academic Programs, who will continue her work to advance needed reforms in the courts and in public policy as well as promote best practices that benefit children at risk because of abuse, neglect or other adversity. Ver Steegh joined Mitchell in 2002 after working extensively on behalf of children and families. After earning her J.D. and M.S.W. degrees, she worked as a legal aid attorney concentrating on law reform in the areas of child protection, domestic violence, housing, and public benefits. Her publications and current work focus on national efforts to enhance court system response in cases where children are exposed to abuse.
The new chair will expand Mitchell’s work in child protection. Through a gift from Jeff ’75 and Julie Anderson, Mitchell entered into a partnership this year with the National Child Protection Training Center (NCPTC), Winona, Minn. A number of conferences for practicing professionals and law students are planned, including a conference early next year on the public policy of effective child abuse prevention. Thanks to the leadership of Justice Meyer, Mitchell also has created a child protection clinic which is training students to represent parents and working to help families stay together.
William Mitchell College of Law is the largest law school in Minnesota, enrolling about 900 students from 38 states and 27 countries. Established in 1900, its alumni are leaders in the state’s top law firms, the judiciary, government and public service sectors, and in the general counsel offices of many Fortune 500 companies.