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Family Law and Children’s Rights

Advising Contacts | Discover | Learn | Experience | Network | Suggested Path

Advising Contacts

Career Development Office Faculty


Discover

Family Law practitioners work in a variety of settings and courts and cover a multitude of subject areas which relate to children and families. Attorneys with a family law practice can handle divorce, separation, civil unions and domestic partnerships, pre-nuptial agreements, adoption, custody and guardianship issues, child abuse and neglect, juvenile delinquency, special education, international child abduction, assisted reproduction, and other areas relating to the creation, maintenance, protection, and dissolution of families. Family matters are largely governed by the states, and so most family law practice takes place in state courts. In New York State that includes Supreme Court, Surrogate’s Court, and Family Court.

Family law practitioners can handle cases as part of the matrimonial department of a large firm, in small partnerships, or also, commonly, as solo practitioners. Some specialized public interest attorneys, such as those working in Family Court handling abuse, neglect, and juvenile delinquency cases, work for organizations such as the Legal Aid Society, Children’s Law Center, the Center for Family Representation, or Lawyers for Children. Others can become certified to receive assigned counsel cases directly from the Court and are paid a standard rate per case set by the legislature. Still other Family Court attorneys work for the City, prosecuting child abuse or juvenile delinquency cases.

Private practice

Attorneys in private practice typically handle matrimonial, custody, special education, and other fee-paid family law matters. Attorneys in a private matrimonial practice typically handle various types of cases and issues concerning domestic relations, including pre-nuptial agreements, adoption, guardianship, divorce, custody, visitation, spousal and child support, and equitable distribution. Matrimonial practice areas can be the primary practice area of a small firm or a separate practice area in a larger firm. A large number of matrimonial attorney are solo practitioners. Some are assigned by courts to represent children, and their fees are paid by the parties. In addition, some attorneys in private practice specialize in adoption law and related reproductive technology or special education matters. Attorneys practicing in the area of special education, represent parents of children with disabilities and assist them in securing appropriate special education services for the child. Attorneys in these areas of law spend significant time in court and often have substantial client contact. It would be useful to develop interviewing, negotiation, drafting, writing, and litigation skills to practice family law in a private setting.

Public interest practice (child protection, domestic violence, juvenile delinquency, indigent matrimonial)

Public interest lawyers can specialize in work relating to children and families. They can handle abuse, neglect, juvenile delinquency, special education issues, and indigent matrimonial cases including, divorce, custody/visitation, guardianship, child support, and related matters. Public interest family lawyers can start out working for the City as child protection or juvenile delinquency prosecutors, or for organizations such as Legal Aid, the Children’s Law Center, the Center for Family Representation, or Advocates for Children of New York, as lawyers for children or parents. These lawyers might eventually transition to a different aspect of the organization’s practice (such as appeals or special litigation), or might move on to a private practice, which could include membership in the assigned counsel plan. This high volume poverty-law based practice is fast-paced; lawyers can litigate multiple hearings on the same day, and are handling full blown trials within weeks, not years, of starting. Most employers provide and organize training periods for new attorneys, but familiarity with trial skills and oral argument, negotiation, interviewing, and legal writing is advised. This practice provides for significant client contact, and opportunities to collaborate inter-disciplinarily with doctors, social workers, psychologists, and others involved in family supervision, treatment, and support.


Learn

Foundation Courses
All are strongly recommended and should be taken early in the upper-level years.
Advanced Courses
Advanced coursework that will build your substantive knowledge in this pathway.
Writing Courses
Coursework to hone your writing skills and develop a portfolio of practicing writing in your field.
Skills Courses
Courses that will develop your oral advocacy, ADR, and other skills necessary for practice.
  • Family Law
  • Evidence
  • New York Practice
  • Administrative Law
  • Immigration Law
  • Children and the Law
  • Matrimonial Law Practice
  • Labor Law
  • Juvenile Justice
  • Special Education Law
  • Education Law Seminar
  • Comparative Equality and Anti-Discrimination Law
  • Family Violence & Sexual Assault
  • Drafting: ADR Documents
  • Drafting: Federal Civil Practice
  • Drafting: Judicial Opinions
  • Drafting: Litigation Documents and Contracts
  • Drafting: New York Civil Practice
  • Legal Writing – Advanced
  • Trial Advocacy
  • Appellate Advocacy
  • Legal Research – Advanced
  • Mediation Skills: Divorce
  • Negotiation
  • Negotiation (Intensive)

Course Descriptions


Experience

Clinics
Students who participate in a clinic are exposed to a practice area through the representation of actual clients under faculty supervision. The following clinics are relevant to this pathway:
Externships
Externships place students in a wide variety of not-for-profit, government, public interest, and private organizations and firms, where they work directly under the supervision of a practicing attorney. The external placements are bolstered by an in-school seminar in which students analyze their practical experiences and gain skills necessary for the profession. Sample placements in this pathway include:
  • Administration for Children’s Services
  • Brooklyn Family Defense Project
  • Lansner & Kubitschek
  • Lawyers for Children
  • Legal Services for the Elderly
  • Nassau County Attorney (Family Court Support Unit)
  • Legal Aid (Juvenile Rights Division)
  • Long Island Advocacy Center
  • New York Legal Assistance Group Inc. (NYLAG)
  • The Safe Center, Long Island
  • Urban Justice Center


Network

Students should seek out connections with practitioners and other students, both at St. John’s and externally. Adjunct professors can be an excellent resource both for guidance and for employment opportunities. Professional bar associations also welcome student participation and offer reduced membership rates for students. Some bar sections and committees look for students to provide research or other assistance on projects. St. John’s faculty are also an essential resource. Students should make an effort to get to know faculty who teach and have experience in their chosen areas. Finally, students should connect with other students who share similar interests through student organizations and attendance at law school events.

Professional Organizations

American Bar Association

Nassau County Bar Association

  • Adoption Law Committee
  • Family Court & Procedure Committee
  • Education Law Committee
  • Matrimonial Law Committee

New York City Bar

New York County Lawyers Association

New York State Bar Association – Family Law Section

Education Law Association

Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, Inc.


Student Organizations

Family Law Society
Children’s Rights Society


Suggested Path

Part-time students should spread out the suggested path below to account for their expected date of graduation.

Year Fall Spring Summer
1L
  • Required courses
  • Pro bono (e.g., LIFT)
  • Required courses
  • Pro bono
  • Work with a judge, ACS, LAS, other institutional provider, or with a matrimonial firm
2L
  • Evidence
  • Family Law
  • Juvenile Justice
  • Electives
  • Get involved with PTAI, Family Law Society, or Educational Law Society Clinic or externship in family law
  • Trial Advocacy
  • APWR course in family law
  • Electives
  • Continue co-curricular participation
  • Continue pro bono work (e.g., Uncontested Divorce)
  • Clinic or externship in family law
  • Work with a judge, ACS, LAS, other institutional provider, or with a matrimonial firm
3L
  • Electives
  • Clinic or externship in family law
  • Complete SWR paper in family law
  • Leadership position in PTAI, Family Law Society, or Children’s Rights Society
  • Continue pro bono work
  • New York Practice
  • Electives
  • Clinic or externship in family law
  • Continue pro bono work
  • Continue extracurricular participation
  • Graduation
  • Bar Exam

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