The law school’s oldest student clinic marks three decades of important work: representing people in crisis, advocating for effective public policy, and working to prevent domestic violence in Western New York and beyond .
It was in 1992 that a domestic violence clinic was established at the law school by co-directors Suzanne Tomkins ’92 and Catherine Cerulli ’92, under the critical direction of the late Professor Isabel Marcus. Thirty years later, students and faculty at what is now known as the Domestic Violence and Women’s Rights Clinic continue to build on this groundbreaking initiative, which set the stage for many community collaborations.
The clinic, now under the direction of Judith Olin, clinical professor of law, has become one of the key players in a team of community partners working to reduce domestic violence and prepare student lawyers to become effective advocates for victims. .
“Student lawyers help bridge the gap to provide civil legal services to otherwise unrepresented survivors of domestic violence,” says Olin. “The clinic’s clientele is mainly made up of single mothers, who often hold several jobs or who struggle to become independent and free themselves from an abusive relationship.
“From the start, student lawyers are trained in trauma-informed practices and are able to work with clients in a way that helps our clients achieve their goals,” she says. “Students always go the extra mile for their clients, often arranging evening and weekend meetings to accommodate the client’s busy schedule.”
The clinic also teaches student lawyers to make appropriate referrals, with the client’s permission, to community domestic violence providers to ensure the client receives needed services. “Student lawyers are expected to learn about the unique community collaboration of Erie County Domestic Violence Services so they understand that it truly takes ‘a village’ to properly address and respond to domestic violence,” says olin.
Lisa Bloch Rodwin ’85, who prosecuted domestic violence cases in the Erie County District Attorney’s office prior to her appointment as a family court judge (now retired), notes that “interpersonal relationships are among the most complex challenges we face as human beings. If you want to make those relationships safer and healthier, that’s not something you can put a band aid on. There is no one person or one agency or even one system that can bring a metamorphosis to a community.
“The only way to approach increasing security,” she says, “is through multiple entry points: not just family court or criminal courts, not just law enforcement. order, not just a shelter, not just a counselor, but many access points that someone could reach out to, to help keep their family safe.
From the start, Rodwin says the clinic has led the way in connecting with these partners. It’s something Mary Travers Murphy also sees from her position as CEO of the Erie County Family Justice Center, a one-stop resource for those seeking protection from violence in their homes.
Many clients of the center need legal help. Sometimes this is provided by Neighborhood Legal Services or the Erie County Bar Association’s Assigned Counsel Program. But, says Murphy, “sometimes a client makes a little too much money to be referred to these agencies, but doesn’t have enough to pay for an attorney. Clinic students can actually represent our clients in family court, and that has been a game changer for us. Whenever we have a legal issue with a client, we call them.
This job often involves filing for protective orders, but the cases run the gamut. “We have clients who have other nuanced, complex, and sometimes dangerous legal issues,” Murphy says. “The students are as professional as they come and their representation is downright phenomenal. The response from our customers is pure joy and appreciation.
Tiffany Pavone ’02 also acknowledges the clinic’s influence in her role as leader of the Erie County Coalition Against Domestic Violence (ECCAFV), a consortium of providers working to overcome barriers to effectively address family violence. family violence. Student advocates regularly attend ECCAFV meetings to learn about the important work of community collaborators and train community coalition partners on important student-led initiatives, including the development of a monitoring program domestic violence and court safety, and advocating for survivors who find themselves in trouble with child protective services.
“The clinic has been a very active member of the coalition and has never been shy about taking the lead in mobilizing and addressing issues that arise,” says Pavone, who is director of victim services and advocacy programs. community services for all1, supporting survivors. with intellectual and developmental disabilities. “Additionally, working with Neighborhood Legal Services lawyers, the clinic’s student lawyers regularly train Community Services for Every1 lawyers on how protection orders work, empowering these non-lawyers to help their clients.” to seek security. »
As part of the law school, the clinic also exists to prepare law students to become great lawyers.
“In my first month as a prosecutor, I was assigned several domestic violence cases, and almost immediately my nearly two years of work with the Domestic Violence and Women’s Rights Clinic became invaluable,” said Jonathan Francisco ’20, assistant district attorney for Monroe County. Francisco was recently promoted to court in Rochester.
“Through my clinical experience, I was able to instantly use the communication and trauma-informed skills I learned to speak effectively and guide victims of abuse through the legal process while helping them simultaneously fight for justice and free themselves from their abusers.”
Kelley Omel ’89, a former prosecutor with the Erie County District Attorney’s Office who is now an adjunct clinical faculty member, says she wishes something like the clinic existed when she was a student at UB. “It’s like practicing law with training wheels,” says Omel. “In addition to the classroom component, students learn through experience.”
She says students also go out into the community to help train lawyers and police officers, and hold sessions at local high schools about teen dating violence.
Francisco adds, “I cannot stress enough that it was through my work with Professor Olin, my fellow student lawyers and the incredible experience I gained at the clinic that I was able to approach a certain number of difficult and complicated cases with confidence, and in doing so, I do my best to seek justice for survivors who have finally found the strength to stand up against their abuser.