Students in the Domestic Violence Clinic (DVC) represent victims of intimate abuse in civil protection order (CPO) cases in the D.C. Superior Court. Through on-the-ground client representation, individual supervision, and seminar-based simulations and exercises, students learn to engage in client-centered advocacy, develop strong trial and negotiation skills, obtain a thorough understanding of family, criminal, and poverty law, and provide representation in an area of substantial community need.

The CPOs Clinic students obtain for their clients may include a broad spectrum of relief designed to effectively end the abuse in an intimate relationship. A CPO may order the respondent to stop assaulting and threatening the client, to stay away from her, her home, and her workplace, vacate her residence, and not to contact her in any manner. The order also may resolve family law issues, including an award of temporary custody of the parties’ children, visitation rights for the non-custodial parent, and child support awards. Other commonly-litigated issues include reimbursement for injury-related medical bills and property damage, referrals to appropriate counseling programs, and the surrender of firearms.

Students in the Clinic serve as lead counsel for their clients. They learn to excel in every phase of expedited civil litigation. Students gain expertise in trial advocacy and the law of evidence; a typical case involves the introduction of photographs, text messages, 911 calls, and/or medical records at trial. Clinic students learn a systematic approach to lawyering involving careful planning, practical engagement, and critical post-performance reflection, and internalize both a valuable method for long-term professional improvement and essential skills that transfer across a wide variety of practice areas.

The DVC’s essential goals include working with students to:

  1. Critically examine society’s historical understandings of and responses to intimate partner violence, with particular attention to the prevailing overdependence on legal interventions.
  2. Engage in dignity-enhancing, zealous, and client-centered legal representation, with a particular focus on litigation and other advocacy skills.
  3. Recognize how trauma may affect clients both in their lives and their interactions with the legal system, and how to practice law in trauma-responsive ways.
  4. Understand that the practice of law is full of uncertainties, and gain confidence in adaptive flexibility and problem-solving.
  5. Build capacity for sophisticated empathic connection, in part by centering curiosity and recognizing the role of emotion in the practice of law.
  6. Critically explore: (a) how explicit and implicit biases (including assumptions, stereotypes, and other cognitive shortcuts) interfere with excellent lawyering; and (b) how survivors, marginalized on the basis of their race, gender, and class, can be treated with deep injustice by the institutions from which they seek help.
  7. Understand that discomfort and vulnerability are critical prerequisites to meaningful learning, and find ways to grow into these challenging experiences.
  8. Begin to develop an individual, authentic professional identity, in part by centering intentional, adaptive reflection and critique.

We pride ourselves on creating a warm and supportive community in the DVC. Faculty provide both the educational scaffolding and the practical feedback students need as they make the transition from law student to practicing attorney. We are also fully conscious of our broader mentoring role: we invest ourselves and our time in each of our students, we are dedicated to helping our students find their individual lawyering voice, and we are available to our students long past graduation and into their lawyering career. Our students are committed to each other as well; every semester, there’s a real sense of family in the DVC.