By Alison Burton, J.D. ’16
I have always been interested in women’s issues, including the power imbalances that help perpetuate domestic violence. As a college student, I volunteered at the University of Virginia Women’s Center and coordinated the legal clinic, which offered free legal services including advice relating to family law and domestic violence issues. The Family and Domestic Violence Law Clinic gave me an opportunity to continue to advocate for victims of domestic violence.
At the clinic, students take on between four and eight cases involving protective orders, child custody and support, divorce, and collateral issues. Students are responsible for communicating with the client, drafting pleadings and motions, and representing the client in court. I really loved the chance to work with clients every day and being able to not only draft documents for court, but also represent clients in court many times. I was involved with the clinic for two semesters, and I went to court hearings four or five times each semester. The experience has been one of my highlights at Harvard Law School.
One of my favorite things about the clinic is the sense of community. From day one, the clinical instructors, Nnena Odim and Stephanie Davidson, constantly provide feedback and collaborate with students. Their feedback on the documents I drafted and on my performance in court taught me how to strategize effectively and how to zealously advocate for my clients. The students in the Family and Domestic Violence Law Clinic also tend to be a close knit group. Getting to hear about their cases and working together as a clinical unit helped us in our brainstorming and problem solving abilities.
Overall, the clinical experience went above and beyond my expectations. While the cases moved along more slowly than I expected, I had far more client contact, feedback from supervisors, and time in court than I thought I would get. Working in the clinic gave me the chance to get outside of the Harvard Law School campus, get involved in a different community, and do work that impacts clients directly.