Family Law Clinic Helping Court of Common Pleas' Family Division
Student attorneys from Duquesne University's new Family Law Clinic are helping to provide much-needed legal assistance to clients of the Self-Help Center in the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas' Family Division.
Working under the supervision of family law expert and Assistant Professor of Clinical Legal Skills Kate Norton, seven student attorneys spend their Wednesdays and Fridays at the court, where they meet with and interview income-qualified clients who cannot afford to hire attorneys to help with issues such as domestic abuse, divorce settlement, conservatorships, child support and child custody, among others.
"Clients tell us their story and we try to figure out what, if anything, we can do to help them," said Norton. "If it's something that requires going to a judge in motions court, the student attorneys not only get the experience of interviewing clients, identifying issues and helping to prepare the pleadings, they also get the experience of appearing before the court to represent and advocate for these clients who otherwise-given the complexity of some of these issues-couldn't really represent themselves effectively."
To date, the student attorneys have interviewed nearly 150 clients and have appeared in court more than 30 times.
"These students are very interested in family law, and they are truly immersing themselves in these cases," explained Laurie Serafino, director of clinical legal education and associate law professor. "They're not just there to provide only an initial consultation-they have the option to handle these cases from beginning to end."
Serafino emphasized the importance of the students reaping the benefits of working with a supervising attorney (Norton) in both the courtroom and the classroom. "She teaches them all aspects of family law, not just from the academic point of view, but also from a clinical point of view. It is the absolute best way to learn-when you have both happening at the same time."
In addition, Norton encourages the student attorneys to sit in during motions court sessions. "There, they can observe not only oral arguments and things like that, but also how to apply the substantive law that they learned in the clinic component or in their family law class to actual oral arguments," said Norton.
Clinical education is one of the instructional cornerstones of Duquesne University's School of Law. Its six law clinics offer students the opportunity to serve the community by providing good counsel, promote the rewards of public service and train in the actual practice of law.
"We're very proud of the advances made by our law clinic under the leadership of Laurie Serafino," said Law Dean Ken Gormley. "Our students have new opportunities for experiential learning that are unparalleled. At the same time, our clinics are providing essential services to underserved individuals and making a real difference."