Giving law students the opportunity to advocate for clients is an essential part of the law school experience. When those clients are some of their state’s most vulnerable residents, the experience can be even more rewarding.
Third-year law students at the University of Nebraska College of Law have the opportunity to serve as guardians ad litem (GAL) for children in Nebraska’s child welfare system. The Children’s Justice Clinic (CJC) is a partnership between the College of Law and Nebraska’s Center on Children, Families, and the Law.
Since the year-long clinic began in September 2017, students have been appointed on 41 cases, representing 88 Nebraska children.
“Advocating for very young children presents a unique challenge that requires a special skill set,” said Judge Roger Heideman, presiding juvenile court judge for the Separate Juvenile Court of Lancaster County, Nebraska.
The CJC is a unique opportunity for law students which includes:
- Guardian ad litem foundations – an intensive classroom component that students take prior to representing clients. Students learn the foundations of child representation, including courtrooms skills, federal and state child welfare laws, the child welfare process, child development, and trauma in young children.
- Weekly seminars – each seminar is developed to enhance and complement the knowledge and skills that students learned in the foundations course. Topics include such areas as drug and substance abuse, domestic violence, and human trafficking.
- Case consultations – the clinic director and the multidisciplinary team of psychologists, social workers, and child welfare practitioners from the Center on Children, Families, and the Law meet weekly with students to advise on cases.
- Reflective consultation – a licensed mental health practitioner and the clinic director help equip students for handling the emotional challenges of their cases.
“Being part of the CJC has expanded my law school education in a way I could have never imagined,” said Rachel Kunz, a third-year law student and current CJC student attorney. “I feel confident going into the courtroom or family team meetings to advocate for my clients and make their voices heard throughout the process. Being a part of this clinic makes me excited for my future as a lawyer.”