UB School of Law’s Family Violence and Women’s Rights Clinic is in position to dramatically expand the scope of its education and community service work, thanks to a major allocation from Erie County.
The $500,000 allocation, earmarked for three years, was obtained through the advocacy of County Legislator Jeanne Vinal, a 1989 UB Law graduate. Its goal is to improve civil legal services for targets of domestic violence in Erie County.
“We were very honored and very excited to receive this funding,” says Clinical Professor Judith Olin, who directs the popular clinic. “It’s going to have a huge impact.”
Vinal recognizes the impact of the clinic on both the clients and the student attorneys. “One of the reasons it’s such a great program is that it’s a finite activity,” the legislator says. “Law students can start and end a case and see results right away. It’s filling a need that isn’t met elsewhere, and it’s giving the students the opportunity to see how great it is to help somebody as a lawyer, to make a difference in someone’s life. The idea is to get more students involved and to be able to help more people.”
Clinic students work on policy issues having to do with preventing family violence, and also provide direct representation for low-income clients in difficult family situations, for example helping them to seek orders of protection and representing them in court proceedings.
The new money, Olin says, will enable the clinic to hire another full-time staff attorney who will supervise the students’ legal work, making it possible for them to represent more clients. The clinic typically enrolls a dozen students each semester; that number may increase, Olin says, and each student potentially could work on more cases with this new supervision.
In addition, she says, the two half-time fellow positions the clinic has offered each summer could become two full-time positions. The new funding also will help pay for clients’ filing fees, court transcripts, and process servers.
Recognizing the importance of a holistic approach to helping clients, the allocation will make it possible to include a social work presence on the law school clinic’s team. “Including a social worker makes our client approach much more trauma-informed, and that’s the gold standard now,” Olin says.
Already, students from UB’s master’s program in social work partner with the Family Violence and Women’s Rights Clinic as their field placement; the new money will provide for weekly professional supervision of these social workers in training.
The benefits of the clinic’s work on behalf of clients are immediate, but in the long term, an even more robust program lays the groundwork for a commitment that graduates will take into their professional lives. “We are providing excellent training for attorneys who will go out and practice this type of law,” Olin says. “With the skills they learn in the clinic, they have a real advantage for getting positions in family law. These students have a great deal of empathy for survivors, they really want to be strong advocates, and this work gives them the model and shows them the way to do that. Then they go out into the community, and they touch so many lives in terms of the clients they represent. That kind of ripple effect is really important.”