The Family Law Clinic provides Southwestern Law students with the opportunity to learn lawyering skills and provide high-quality legal assistance to a vulnerable and underserved population in a community-based learning environment. Under the close supervision of the adjunct faculty member (a staff attorney from the Harriett Buhai Center for Family Law Center), students will offer legal advice and counsel to clients in the area of family law with domestic violence interwoven in the majority of these cases. In this Clinic, students will apply their knowledge from civil procedure and community property, together with the research and writing skills learned in LAWS. The Clinic students will participate in a weekly course component alongside their casework to deepen their learning of family law. Students will complete their office hours, casework and case supervision at the Center.
About Harriett Buhai Center for Family Law
The semester-long Family Law Clinic will be a community-based collaborative clinic in partnership with the Harriett Buhai Center for Family Law (the “Center”).
The Center was founded in 1982 by the Black Women Lawyers Association of Los Angeles, the Los Angeles County Bar, and Women Lawyers Association of Los Angeles. Since its inception, the Center has served as a cornerstone of family law and domestic violence assistance for low-income persons in California. Utilizing volunteers comprised of lawyers and law students, the Center provides free direct legal assistance and education to over 800 low-income individuals and over 600 children each year. It is the mission of the Center to protect victims of domestic violence, improve the well-being of children living in poverty, empower people in need and assure meaningful access to the courts.
At the Center, during the Client Orientation Assessment System (“COAS”), students will hone their skills in interviewing, issue spotting and counseling with potential clients. Once the COAS appointment is completed, law students will apply the facts to the law, assess possible legal options, develop case plans, draft pleadings and declarations, and provide legal counsel to clients during varying stages of legal proceedings to ensure a wide range of understanding of the cycle of a family law case, many that include victims of domestic violence. Simultaneously with their case assignments, they will be participating in a classroom component, which will prepare them for representation of their assigned cases. Clinic students will (under supervision) determine a case plan, set appointments, meet deadlines, prepare pleadings, counsel clients, and adapt to changes in the case.
Family Law Clinic
The Clinic will provide family law legal services in collaboration with the Center. The Clinic will provide pro bono advice, counsel and representation to clients of the Center in a variety of family law matters, including but not limited to domestic violence, division of property, visitation, custody, parentage, and child support matters. The students will counsel clients in various stages of a family law case under the supervision of experienced staff attorneys at the Center. Students will explain client rights and responsibilities to clients in client-friendly language. Under the guidance of their professor, students will develop and implement a fact investigation plan to prepare the case and will follow through with assigned cases throughout the semester.
Students in the Clinic will learn many facets of professional responsibility such as client confidentiality, responsiveness to client demands, zealous advocacy in practice, and accountability for their work. By working with real clients in real cases, students will learn how to handle challenging clients and will come away with an appreciation of the value of public service and the importance of access to justice for low-income clients and underserved communities.
Throughout the client representation, students will learn how to investigate and develop facts, and ultimately, how to persuasively tell the client's story across legal writing formats. Students will conduct fact investigation and gather necessary documentation. Students will implement both their written and oral advocacy in order to further hone this persuasive method of legal analysis. Students will understand how to help a client in crisis or under stress, and will build empathy and counseling skills through assisting domestic violence survivors, clients with mental or physical health issues. Students will gain practical experience through case management, with the preparation of court documents, through research assignments, and, if possible, by making certified court appearances as available with their assigned cases.
Students must be in good academic standing and have completed their first year of study in order to be eligible to participate in the Clinic. Students will be required to have taken either Family Law or Family Law Procedure and Practice, and will be strongly encouraged to have also taken or simultaneously enroll in Community Property, Evidence, and Legal Profession.
Prospective students will apply through an application process and will have the opportunity to explain their interest in the Clinic. All eligible applicants will be interviewed by the Center. Preference will be given to third and fourth-year students who have not had prior clinic experience. Consideration will be given to students with family law, domestic violence, public interest and other relevant work or volunteer experience. Fluency in a relevant language other than English is preferred, but not required. Selection will not be based on academic rank.
Grading and Evaluation
There is no final examination. Instead, the student’s letter grade is based on his/her cumulative performance throughout the Clinic. The Student Core Competencies are distributed throughout the categories below and students will receive a rubric for evaluating the competencies. The grading rubric will be designed by the adjunct faculty in collaboration with the Associate Dean for Experiential Learning. In addition, the Associate Dean for Experiential Learning will oversee the assessment process.
Client Representation (50%)
- Writing & Work Product
- Interviewing & Counseling
- Relationships with Clients
- Office Management
Research and Writing Assignment (15%)
Professional Habits and Ethical Obligations (10%)
Classroom Component (25%)