Domestic Violence Clinic


  • Natalie Nanasi
    Director, Domestic Violence Clinic


Family and Immigration Law Interventions in Domestic Violence

Student attorneys in the Domestic Violence Clinic (DVC) represent victim/survivors of domestic violence seeking civil protection orders and/or petitioning to change their immigration status. The opportunity to gain experience in family and immigration arenas allows student attorneys to evaluate the benefits and limits of these interventions into the complex problem of domestic violence in this two-semester clinic.

In representing clients seeking civil protection orders, student attorneys assume responsibility for all aspects of the representation. Working collaboratively with clients, under clinic faculty supervision, student attorneys confront the challenges of balancing a client’s immediate needs for safety and support with the ongoing press of trial preparation. Working in teams, student attorneys conduct intake interviews (usually through the Domestic Violence Intake Centers at D.C. Superior Court or Greater Southeast Community Hospital), assess clients’ legal options, counsel clients regarding legal and non-legal options, and prepare and file court pleadings. Upon filing petitions, student attorneys represent clients in temporary protection order hearings to provide immediate safety-related relief. Student attorneys perform research and fact investigation, handle settlement negotiations, and conduct all aspects of contested civil protection order trials – including giving opening statements, calling witnesses and introducing exhibits into evidence, cross-examining witnesses, and delivering a closing arguments – in the D.C. Superior Court’s Domestic Violence Unit. Clients frequently seek safety provisions, custody, child support, property, maintenance, counseling, and other relief necessary to prevent violence.

Student attorneys also represent clients seeking to change their immigration status under the Violence Against Women Act provisions for battered immigrants. The Clinic currently handles VAWA Self-Petitions, Battered Spouse Waivers, and U-Visas. Working collaboratively with clients under clinic faculty supervision, student attorneys assist the client in addressing safety, support, and immigration status issues as they unfolded prior to and during the legal process. Student attorneys conduct interviews of clients, counsel clients regarding legal and non-legal options, conduct research and fact investigation, obtain witness testimony, prepare the client’s petition, and appear before immigration officials for immigration interviews.

Student attorney teams regularly meet with their faculty supervisor to develop case plans and strategy, to review trial preparation, and to discuss reflections on lawyering, domestic violence, and systemic interventions and responses. In addition to these supervision meetings, student attorneys meet weekly in a clinic seminar and in case rounds. The seminar addresses the theory and practice of advocacy, and is structured largely around simulations. It gives student attorneys the opportunity to practice and hone their skills related to client representation and advocacy in trial settings. DVC student attorneys meet weekly in case rounds to discuss their experiences and insights gained from their client representation, and to evaluate systemic and other forces affecting the success and failure of various domestic violence interventions.

A limited number of interested student attorneys in the DVC are selected by lottery to work at the U.S. Attorney's Office during the spring semester prosecuting domestic violence misdemeanor crimes. Under the supervision of Assistant U.S. Attorneys, student attorneys prepare cases for trial, interview police officers and complaining witnesses, respond to motions, present proffers during acceptance of a guilty plea, and prepare and present witnesses and arguments in domestic violence misdemeanor trials in D.C. Superior Court.

DVC students earn seven credits per semester, for a total of 14 credit hours for the year. Please note that Evidence is a prerequisite because it is necessary for court certification in the District of Columbia. If interested students have not yet enrolled in Evidence, they may complete Evidence during the summer prior to beginning Clinic.