The Domestic Violence Clinic provides students with an intensive, challenging education in the art of trial advocacy, extensive hands-on experience with domestic violence, criminal, and family law, poverty lawyering, and the opportunity to alleviate a crucial community need for legal representation. Through course work and client representation, students are exposed to every phase of expedited civil litigation. Students learn to navigate the criminal justice system in the course of supporting their client’s goals, which can include either working with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in prosecutions against those accused of abusing Clinic clients, or advocating against such prosecution in a particular case.
Students litigate on behalf of their clients to obtain Civil Protection Orders (“CPOs”) that last up to one year and can include a broad spectrum of relief designed to effectively end the violence in a family or dating relationship. For example, in a CPO, a judge may direct a perpetrator to cease assaulting and threatening a victim; to stay away from the victim’s home, person and workplace; not to contact the victim in any manner; and to vacate the parties’ shared home. The judge may also award temporary custody of the parties’ minor children, with visitation rights for the non-custodial parent, and child support, so that a victim is not forced to return to an abusive partner due to economic necessity.
To prepare students to appear in court, Clinic faculty provide intensive instruction in fact investigation, interviewing and counseling, evidence, civil procedure, and ethics, as well as the civil, criminal, and family law applicable to domestic violence litigation. In the seminar class, students participate in exercises designed to develop and refine essential litigation skills they will put into action in court, such as conducting direct and cross-examinations, delivering opening statements and closing arguments, introducing exhibits into evidence, and conducting negotiations. In addition, faculty work with students to develop a range of skills essential for professional excellence regardless of practice area, such as effective communication, how to exercise and communicate empathy, how to engage in meaningful self-reflection, and the art of humility. Additionally, students use their client representation experience to develop ideas about increasing access to justice and/or systemic reform.
Students work in teams of two and represent several clients during the course of the semester. Students are fully responsible for all aspects of client representation, from conducting the initial intake interview to investigating facts, drafting a complaint, preparing witnesses for testimony, crafting oral arguments, and negotiating a consent CPO or taking the case to trial. Each student team has regular meetings with a supervisor to review and discuss litigation strategy. Students receive intensive feedback and support from their supervisors on drafts of court documents, as well as on interviewing, counseling, and negotiation plans.
While many cases end with a negotiated consent agreement, many are resolved through trial. Trials can last several hours to several days and provide students with the opportunity to present witness testimony through direct examination, introduce exhibits into evidence (including photographs, text messages, voice mail recordings, and recordings of 911 calls), and cross examine witnesses. Students leave the Clinic with real expertise in putting on a trial and moving around a courtroom.
In every case, students put a witness on the stand, present direct testimony, and argue their client’s case in front of a judge in an ex parte Temporary Protection Order hearing.
Over the years, students have found their Clinic semester to be one of the most intense, exciting, exhausting, and rewarding experiences of their lives. The benefits are substantial – by the time students complete the Clinic, they are likely to have more trial experience than most attorneys many years out of law school. Yet, enrollment in this litigation-intensive Clinic requires that students commit to fulfilling extensive demands on their time. Students have some opportunity for vacation time during their Clinic semester, but because they are representing clients in fast-paced, emergency cases, students must obtain faculty permission before making plans to leave town, even during school vacations and weekends. Although it is unusual, students may be required to continue with case work during the reading and exam period.
Students participating in the either the Fall or Spring semesters of the Clinic will need to return to school several days before classes begin for Clinic Orientation. The DVC faculty will hold intensive preparatory sessions to get Clinic students up to speed on the substantive law and lawyering skills they will need to know to go to court with a client as soon as possible.
On average, students can expect to spend approximately 35 hours per week engaging in DV Clinic work.
The Domestic Violence Clinic is a 10-credit, one-semester course, offered during the Fall and Spring semesters. The DV Clinic is available to 2Ls, 3Ls and 4Es students. To apply for the Domestic Violence Clinic, students must have completed all first-year courses and (as a pre- or co-requisite) Evidence. Although we reserve one or two clinic seats for students with interest, experience, or enthusiasm about domestic violence issues and/or litigation, we hope to include students with a wide range of background, experience, and interests. We give preference to students entering their final year of law school.
The Clinic accepts 12 student per semester.
CLINIC RECRUITMENT AND FURTHER INFORMATION
Students who are interested in applying for or learning more about the Domestic Violence Clinic, are encouraged to attend our Open House held via Zoom on Tuesday, March 31, 2020 at 3:30 p.m. In addition, interested students are encouraged to visit the Clinic Eligibility and Registration page for a video introduction to the Clinic and the link for our Zoom Open House. Finally, please do not hesitate to reach out to either of the Clinic Directors, Professor Deborah Epstein at firstname.lastname@example.org or Professor Rachel Camp at email@example.com, with any questions. To read and hear about the experience of current and former DVC students, visit the Student Experience and Client Stories page.