What is the Family Court Clinic?
The Family Court Clinic (FCC) was developed to address one of the most pressing needs and challenges to our court system: unrepresented family law litigants. In FCC, law students provide legal information, forms, and guidance to unrepresented litigants under the supervision of experienced clinical faculty. Students work at the Dane County Courthouse as well as at a community office, located in a low-income, culturally diverse part of the city. Through their direct service to the community, students learn effective lawyering skills while developing an understanding not only of the social and economic contexts in which the litigants' problems occur, but also of the possibilities and limitations of the legal system. This program has garnered support from Dane County and Wisconsin Supreme Court judges, as well as local community groups. In 2005, the FCC expanded its services to also assist unrepresented litigants with restraining order (a.k.a. protective order) petitions and began working with other agencies involved in ending domestic violence.
What do FCC Students Do?
- Observe court hearings and mediations
- Assist unrepresented family law litigants with completing forms, and understanding the court process in a particular case
- Develop and use written materials to guide litigants and to use in educational workshops
- Provide individual representation in selected cases
- Partner with the Neighborhood Law Project to offer community education, forms and guidance at neighborhood sites
FCC'S Educational Mission
The educational mission of the FCC is to expose students to the range of challenges facing unrepresented (pro se) litigants in the court system, to train students in legal research and analysis, drafting, negotiation, litigation, and other skills, while also engaging them in a critical inquiry into the role of law and lawyers in redressing economic injustice and inequality. The FCC students work under a clinical law professor's close supervision, and gain experience in client interviewing, counseling, mediation, and drafting legal documents while developing a practical understanding of Wisconsin's divorce process. The students also critically evaluate the various responses of the justice system to the needs of pro se litigants.
In addition to weekly hours spent at the courthouse, at neighborhood sites and in individual supervision, the FCC students participate in a weekly seminar. The seminar includes materials on: (1) the substantive topics students will encounter in their work; (2) skills development in interviewing, mediation, counseling, and writing; (3) issues pertinent to the substantive topics such as ADR, the use of interpreters in the courts, the role of the guardian ad litem and abuse issues in divorce; (4) issues related to pro se representation and innovative methods for providing legal services. Students will participate in simulated case studies and exercises for training purposes on interviewing, counseling and negotiations. The weekly seminar also provides an opportunity for students to brief each other on their case work and to brainstorm new approaches to case related issues and projects.
What Students Have to Say About Their FCC Experience
- More than anything in Law School, FCC has taught me who I am, in the professional sense. FCC has helped me develop skills in client communication, both with my client and with FCC intakes. The thorough knowledge of family law that the Clinic has given me has aided in my understanding of which questions are best to ask and the limits on what I am able to do for each intake.
- I was surprised that the people who used FCC ranged so greatly in age, race, and social class. I was not expecting the program to have reached such a variety of people so quickly. The work I did at FCC was engaging and challenging. I was surprised that the divorce process would be so complicated and with such a variety of difficulties at its various points.
- My work at FCC has definitely impacted my ideas about lawyering. I think that FCC has taught me how to “think like a lawyer.” During my courthouse intake shifts, I’m able to help individuals with all sorts of family law issues. I feel as though I can break a problem down into components and deal with each component one at a time. This means that I can offer much better assistance. I believe that this way of breaking down problems will translate to any and all areas of law that I may pursue after FCC.
- I really love the way the Clinic is run. I like the feeling of independence we receive, but also the feeling of support.
- FCAP has been a tremendous benefit. It has really helped with my fear of speaking in public. The past months have really given me more confidence.
- Working with people and getting to know them really helps to increase your motivation to to do a good job. Seeing people and talking to them face-to-face makes their problem more real and makes you want to do your very best to help them succeed.
- If there is not a form for what they want, it probably is time to put on the counseling hat.
The FCC operates a full-time summer clinic for seven credits and a summer stipend, followed by a two-semester program for fewer credits. For more information, stop by Professor Mansfield's office in Room 1349 in the Remington Center or contact her at 262-9142 (firstname.lastname@example.org).