Ellis D. Newkirk and PLATU: Revolutionizing Legal Advocacy at the University of Tulsa

Ellis D. Newkirk and PLATU: Revolutionizing Legal Advocacy at the University of Tulsa
By: E. Stokes
Photographed by: E. Stokes


In the dynamic landscape of legal education, the Plaintiffs' Law Association at the University of Tulsa College of Law (PLATU) is emerging as a trailblazing force under the spirited leadership of Ellis D. Newkirk, a 25-year-old 2L at the University of Tulsa College of Law. Newkirk shares the captivating story behind PLATU, its mission, and the cultural perspectives that shape its impactful journey in the realm of justice, diversity, and community engagement.


PLATU, born from the inspiration of Ben Keller, an intern at the University of Virginia School of Law, is more than just a law association; it's a movement. According to Newkirk, it provides a haven for students interested in Plaintiffs and Civil Rights law, encouraging them to pursue "feel-good" work that directly impacts the community. Newkirk's voice resonates passionately as he explains the organization's purpose: "Very few lawyers get to wake up every morning and go do 'feel-good' work every day, except Plaintiffs lawyers."


In a legal landscape often dominated by the allure of defense firms, PLATU stands as a unique advocate for justice. Newkirk, with determination in his voice, challenges the traditional narrative presented to law students: "Professors will try to steer you towards working at a defense firm by telling you about their nice salaries and other incentives that might come with the job. However, what they do not tell you is very few lawyers get to wake up every morning and go do 'feel-good' work every day, except Plaintiffs lawyers."


The organization's name, PLATU, reflects its distinct identity, much like its imaginary mascot, Perry the Platypus. Newkirk explains with a hint of humor, "If we had a mascot, it would be a Platypus. To be more specific, it would be Perry the Platypus for two reasons. First, the name—PLATU—is similar. Second, we are low key but will still give you the business, just like Perry."


PLATU's mission extends beyond legal education. It is a call to revolutionize the legal landscape, ensuring that the next generation of lawyers reflects the diversity of the communities they serve. Newkirk expresses his grand vision: "My goal is to completely change the legal landscape. So that whenever my son or daughter goes to law school one day they won't have only one other person in their class who looks like them."


In the pursuit of diversity, PLATU actively contributes to Black History Month by hosting a judicial panel of black sitting judges. Newkirk believes in direct engagement with the community, emphasizing the importance of awareness and representation in the legal field: "Our goal is to let all of the Tulsa community know that they always have an advocate."


The intersection of justice, pop culture, and civil rights becomes vivid through Newkirk's personal experiences and observations. Reflecting on the power of pop culture, he states, "One way or another, black or pop culture is always going to be controversial." PLATU stands as a bridge between the legal realm and cultural narratives, with a focus on civil rights and social change.


PLATU leverages the power of social media to engage with a wider audience. Newkirk introduces board members Jeremy Abdo and Kate Garner, emphasizing their roles in creating engaging content for the organization: "Jeremy Abdo has extensive experience in social media and videography... Kate Garner does a great job making the flyers for our events, which is the first step in engaging and reaching a wider audience."


Navigating the intersection of legal advocacy and cultural narratives, PLATU stays connected with the community through figures like Trent Martin. Martin, a former University of Tulsa football player and owner of Sharpside Barbershop, exemplifies the connection between PLATU and the local community.


PLATU's personalized approach is reflected in one-on-one counseling meetings designed to address the unique needs and concerns of individual members. Newkirk emphasizes the importance of listening to each member's voice distinctly and individually, acknowledging the diverse struggles law students face.


In the spirit of fostering community engagement, PLATU's fundraising goals include paying off negative balances at local high schools. Newkirk envisions the organization's impact reaching beyond law school: "Our mission at PLATU is to inform the community of their rights through direct interaction like hosting events on campus that are welcome to the public or doing art shows for the local schools."


As PLATU continues its journey, Ellis D. Newkirk's voice echoes through its mission and actions, reshaping legal education, fostering diversity, advocating for justice, and actively engaging with the community. PLATU stands not only as a law association but as a movement, challenging the status quo and inspiring a new generation of lawyers to be advocates for positive change.