The pipeline into children’s law needs to be diversified, and children’s law as a field needs to be more accessible to people, including those with lived expertise. How we frame and talk about this work matters as does the language we use. Historically, organizations that employ children’s lawyers have been part of the problem, but we currently have an opportunity to be part of the solution. In this session, the speakers had an interactive discussion about these issues and shared ideas for solutions to make the field of children’s law more accessible.
In the webinar, the speakers shared ways to attract and retain attorneys of color, attorneys with disabilities, and attorneys with lived expertise in the child welfare or justice systems.
- Young attorneys and law students are looking for organizations that are doing good work where they can be impactful. But organizations need to be reminded that just because they are doing good work on behalf of youth in these systems doesn’t mean that they are automatically culturally competent in the way they treat their clients and employees. Being aware and putting in the work toward this can help to attract students and retain good talent who are committed to children’s legal issues.
- One way to attract attorneys directly into this field is to eliminate the “training ground” culture, where defense attorneys use juvenile court as a training ground for criminal defense. This leads to a lack of respect for children’s law. In actuality, children’s rights work is civil rights work. It is an innovative area of the law that allows attorneys to bring creative legal and constitutional arguments.
- Law schools can offer fellowships for students. As an example, the Bergstrom Fellowship at University of Michigan gives students who apply to this summer program an intensive week of training on child welfare. The Civitas ChildLaw fellowship at Loyola University Chicago also offers a scholarship to students interested in children’s law and has a course offering including classes geared toward children’s law issues throughout the three years of law school. These fellowships give students a unique opportunity to develop expertise while in law school.
- Nonprofit law offices and law firms can offer:
- Paid internships—they give the opportunity for students to be able to learn from experts without the burden of unpaid work when many have law school loans
- Fellowships reserved for recent law school graduates and attorneys of color—for example, The Gault Center’s fellowship allows recent post-graduates to engage in technical assistance with attorneys across the country and it gives them a direct connection to the pipeline of youth defenders across the country.
- Training for young attorneys to develop skills and also nurture their own professional interests.
- Opportunities for leadership and autonomy in the work to whatever degree is possible.
- We can’t continue to attract quality attorneys if we can’t provide them the pay and support they need to stay in this field. Individuals, especially those with lived experience, may be affected by the vicarious trauma of doing this work. We need institutional structures in place to intentionally support them.
Note: This is Part 1 of a series of Practice Points, which cover key takeaways from "The Future of Children’s Lawyering" webinar series in Fall 2022.
- Kirstin Evans, 2020–22 Gault Fellow, The Gault Center, Washington, DC
- Leyda Garcia-Greenawalt, National Law School Student Organizer, National Association of Counsel for Children, Chicago, IL
- Hector Linares, Coordinator of Skills & Experiential Learning and Clinic Professor, Loyola University, New Orleans, LA
- Shannon Moody, PhD, MSSW, CSW, Kentucky Youth Advocates, Louisville, KY
- Chach Duarte White, Director of Legal Services, Justice Expansion Team, Legal Counsel for Youth & Children, Seattle, WA (moderator)