Women and the Law Clinic



The Family and the Legal System

The Women and the Law Clinic often begins representation of clients in child custody and support, domestic violence, and child neglect cases. Once the clinic begins working with a client, however, student attorneys assist the client with other legal matters that affect the client's life. The clinic's caseload is thus quite varied. Student attorneys treat each client not as a discrete “case” but as a complex person dealing with issues implicating many aspects of the legal system. These issues may have led to, complicated, or exacerbated the client's involvement with the legal system. While cases often involve family law issues, student attorneys also represent clients in other civil and administrative actions including landlord-tenant, employment, immigration, education, consumer, and small claims cases.

Addressing both a client's family-related and other legal issues lets student attorneys examine how gender operates within the law, how family law intersects with other substantive areas of the law, and how related problems are handled differently within a variety of legal settings. Student attorneys can see the impact of the law on women's economic situations, safety, and relationship with their children.

Cases are often vigorously contested, requiring the use of many skills. Extensive client contact involving complex counseling and vigorous fact investigation is common. Negotiation occurs in different contexts. Student attorneys have frequent opportunities for legal writing, including client opinion letters, complaints, motions, and legal memoranda. Court appearances and administrative hearings involve both the presentation of evidence through witnesses and exhibits and legal arguments entailing both written and oral advocacy. Each team's caseload varies depending on the complexity and demands of the cases. While students have the opportunity to handle a variety of matters, they often may focus on areas of particular interest.

Student attorneys work in teams and have full responsibility for representing clients. The teams work under the close supervision of faculty supervisors and may be certified to practice in the District of Columbia state and federal courts and the Maryland state courts. In addition to regular meetings with their supervisors, student attorneys meet weekly in a clinic seminar, which is conducted jointly with the Domestic Violence Clinic, and in case rounds. The seminar, which addresses the theory and practice of advocacy, is structured around simulations. Students examine, practice, and hone their skills related to client representation and advocacy in administrative and trial settings. In case rounds, student attorneys compare their experiences, work together on their cases, identify possibilities for systemic advocacy, and reflect on their developing professional identities and the meaning of the law in clients' lives. Throughout the clinic, students analyze the relationship of gender to the law and lawyering.

Students must take Evidence, either prior to enrollment in WALC or during the Fall semester, so that they may appear in court in the District of Columbia. Students who have completed Evidence may be court certified in the Fall semester. Students who take Evidence as a co-requisite in the Fall are not eligible to appear in court until the Spring semester.

Students receive a total of seven (7) credits per semester to cover the weekly clinic seminar, case rounds, and work on cases. The seminar portion of WALC may be taken as a year-long course or for the Fall semester only. Full year enrollment in WALC is preferred. Because clinic involves representing clients with ongoing needs, students who sign up for only the Fall semester seminar must retain involvement with their cases during the Spring semester. Therefore, students who enroll in the WALC seminar for the Fall semester only must enroll for 2 credits of fieldwork in the Spring semester in order to continue with their casework.