Students enrolled in the one-semester, 12-credit Family Law Concentration (FLC) will work 2 days a week in organizations that represent parents in child welfare cases filed by the New York City Administration for Children's Services, or children in the Legal Aid Society’s Juvenile Rights Practice, or survivors of domestic violence. Working within an interdisciplinary model with social work and other professionals, students will work on a range of issues such as parental defense, child protection, immigration, custody, visitation, support, orders of protection, and other related family law issues. Students will also engage in an independent project within the Concentration and/or work with community groups to advocate for reforms or do community education for families affected by many forms of state intervention, including the collateral effects of mass criminalization on low-income communities.
Highlights of the Family Law Concentration
- Client contact at established family law practice groups, working directly with supervisors in those organizations
- Opportunities for community education through self-directed projects
- A chance to improve legal writing skills in the context of real cases
- Assisting families in crisis to obtain needed services
- Representing parents involved in child welfare proceedings in the early stages of their cases with increased likelihood of keeping families together where appropriate
- Litigating the improper removal of children from their parents and identifying less intrusive solutions to family problems in order to help keep families together and help parents maintain safe and stable environments for their children
- Providing advocacy for children in the foster care system
- Litigating on behalf of survivors of domestic violence to obtain custody, visitation, divorce, support orders, orders of protection, and adjustment of status through use of Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) remedies
- Working with community organizations to provide culturally sensitive representation and to assist communities in stopping violence and promoting child welfare system reform
Typical Student Practice
Students may represent clients in New York City Family Court and Supreme Court or before administrative agencies. Students can potentially engage in a variety of tasks, such as client intake; fact investigation; interviewing clients and witnesses; obtaining and preparing documentary and demonstrative exhibits; analyzing and researching legal issues; drafting internal office memoranda, memoranda of law and various court papers; providing support in obtaining public benefits; engaging in mediation and negotiation; appearing in court on behalf of clients; meeting with community groups and public officials; and drafting proposed legislation, regulations, policy papers and community education materials.
Collaborative, Interdisciplinary & Community Practice
The Family Law Concentration field placement organizations typically employ an interdisciplinary model in which lawyers work with social work professionals, parent advocates, community activists and other professionals to provide comprehensive services to clients. Working within this model, FLC interns will gain first-hand experience with the similarities and differences in the ways that the professions identify and solve problems. Collaboration with other helping professionals will enhance FLC students' counseling and inter-relational skills, and increase their understanding not only of the professional standards, assumptions and skill sets of the legal profession, but those of other helping professions as well. FLC students may also collaborate with other CUNY Law clinics around cross-cutting issues affecting various client groups.
In the classroom students will become familiar with general family law doctrine such as divorce, custody and visitation, paternity, and child support, as well as law related specifically to domestic violence, parental defense in abuse and neglect proceedings, and child protection. We will examine and critique the social and political dimensions of these practice areas, and explore the ways in which anti-oppressive lawyering practices, professional responsibility rules and ethical considerations can enhance the quality of our lawyering and promote positive outcomes for clients. Given the inevitable diversity of field experiences, all FLC interns will cross-train and participate in a substantial in-class simulation to allow them to develop a range of lawyering skills that reflect and support their real-world practice experience. Moreover, students will be exposed to other substantive areas of law that affect their family law practice, such as immigration law, and the rights of LGBTQ parents.
During weekly rounds meetings, students will discuss the work they are doing in their placements. These discussions will provide opportunities for students to collaborate and generate alternative approaches to particular legal problems and consider related ethical and professional responsibility issues.
Complex interviewing and counseling work, as well as the in and out of court advocacy prepares graduates for practice in many settings. Students will be well prepared for general family law practices and for child welfare, domestic violence, and poverty law practices, including with family defense organizations that serve low-income clients. Graduates can expect to practice in a variety of practice settings including work in solo and small firms, legal services, child welfare organizations, domestic violence and immigrants' rights organizations, policy and reform organizations, and government offices.