By: Florence Bryan, J.D. ’19
I was fortunate to work with the dedicated attorneys at the Children and Family Law Trial Division (CAFL) of the Committee for Public Counsel Services, the public defender agency for Massachusetts, during my 2L year. As a student in the Child Advocacy Clinic, I worked on-site at CAFL three days a week learning both the law and key lawyering skills under experienced supervising attorneys. There I realized how important it is to be a zealous advocate both in and out of the courtroom.
The attorneys at CAFL represent children and parents in both Care and Protection cases, which involve allegations of abuse or neglect, and Child Requiring Assistance cases, which involve children alleged to have challenges at school or home. As an intern at CAFL, I assisted attorneys with preparing for termination of parental rights trials, drafting motions, reviewing client files, and researching various issues for cases. After diving into this new area of law, I also had the opportunity to represent clients in court. It was a privilege to get to know children and parents, even as they faced some of the most difficult times in their lives, and to help them navigate the legal process alongside my supervising attorneys.
At CAFL I observed attorneys with a variety of advocacy styles. But despite having different approaches, everyone in the office shared a truly client-centered mentality. Their advocacy went far beyond the courthouse doors. The attorneys were continuously working to connect their clients with services, negotiate with other attorneys on cases, and reach out to family, friends, and community resources.
From watching the attorneys in action, it became clear to me that the foundation of their strong advocacy is effective communication with clients—especially when their clients are children. The attorneys spend a significant amount of their time with clients listening and asking questions to get a complete sense of who they are and what outcome they want. I tried to mirror this in my own interactions with clients, as I wanted to be sure that each client had a full understanding of what was happening and an opportunity to come to a decision about the case that was genuinely their own. I think this kind of advocacy not only leads to better outcomes for families, but also gives children, in particular, a sense of agency when so much feels out of their control.
With compassion and commitment, the attorneys at CAFL help children and parents through incredibly challenging situations, working just as hard for their clients behind the scenes as they do in the courtroom. I hope to carry what I learned from their example in work that I do in the future.