Family Justice Litigation
The Family Justice Litigation Clinic focuses on domestic violence, family law, and access to justice. Under faculty supervision, students represent litigants who could not otherwise afford a lawyer in D.C. Superior Court and undertake a range of cases in the Family Court including divorce, custody, and adoption, and the Domestic Violence Division including civil protection order cases. Students also serve as mediators in short-term mediations of family law cases and do critical outreach to pro se litigants who are referred by the Court for assistance with service of process. While representing domestic violence litigants, students have an opportunity to gain exposure to criminal practice by collaborating with the US Attorney’s Office in related prosecutions of accused perpetrators of interpersonal violence. In all cases, students are responsible for every phase of litigation, including drafting of initial pleadings, motions, discovery, settlement negotiations, and taking the case to trial.
Credits: 6 letter-graded credits (one semester)
- Information for Students
Students will be selected based on their potential to provide high quality, client-centered legal services to our client population. Faculty will consider students’ interest in and commitment to family law, domestic violence law, and/or a career in litigation. In addition, faculty will consider past experiences in working directly with less advantaged clients and individuals in crisis. Students who have not yet been able to explore these areas should not be deterred from applying.
Every semester, the clinics hold an Open House where faculty are available to answer questions about their respective clinics. Students may also contact Professor Kohn to discuss the clinic or ask specific questions.
- Seminar & Faculty Supervision
In the weekly classroom component, which meets for two hours, students study the substantive and procedural law relevant to their cases—including the local domestic violence and family law statutes, criminal law, evidentiary principles, and procedural rules—and focus on client counseling, strategic thinking, ethics, and litigation skills exercises, such as performing direct and cross-examinations, arguing motions, and conducting negotiations. Guest speakers and other sessions round out the practice of family law and poverty lawyering.
Students meet with their supervisors on a weekly basis outside of the seminar to review and discuss case strategy and client counseling. Supervisors review and provide feedback on all documents and on all client counseling sessions. Supervisors may accompany students to various client meetings and appear in court with students. Finally, students submit reflections to help them engage in critical reflection.
- Time Commitment
Over the years, students have found six-credit clinics to be one of the most intense, exciting, and rewarding experiences of their academic careers. The benefits are substantial – by the time students complete the Clinic, they are likely to have gained as much experience as most attorneys in their first year of law practice. Consequently, enrollment in this practice-based Clinic requires that students commit to fulfilling extensive demands on their time. Students will be expected to devote an average of 21 hours per week to their Clinic work. The work will ebb and flow during the semester, requiring substantially more work when preparing for a matter and less work between matters. Personal travel during the semester is sometimes limited and must be pre-approved by Clinic faculty. We ask that students be prepared to be as flexible as possible since much of the work of the Clinic will be deadline driven, and the failure to meet deadlines could be significantly detrimental to a client.
Students participating in the Clinic will be required to attend a two -to-three day orientation held prior to or in the beginning of their Clinic semester. The intensive preparatory sessions help students get up to speed on the substantive law and practical skills needed so they can be prepared to work with clients as soon as possible.
- Information for Prospective Clients
The Family Justice Litigation Clinic represents clients in a variety of family law and domestic violence matters. The majority of our representation involves domestic violence, child custody, divorce, third party custody, and child support. Clients are represented by third year law students who are certified to practice in DC Superior Court and supervised by attorneys who have practiced extensively in the family law field,
We provide services for free and, in return, ask clients to cooperate with the needs of the students in preparing cases and taking them to trial. We are permitted by the court to only represent clients who cannot afford a lawyer.
If you are interested in talking with us about a case, please call our Intake Line at 202.994.7463. Before taking on the case, our staff will conduct a brief telephone interview to determine the nature of your legal issue and ask about any filings or hearings that have already taken place. When you call, please have any pending case numbers and significant dates available. After the brief telephone interview, clinic faculty will assess if we have the appropriate staffing to take on your case. You will hear from us shortly after the phone interview.