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Three Years of Fearless Children’s Lawyers

Catherine E Krebs and Shannon Prown


  • The Fearless Children's Lawyer of the Month series was launched in March 2020 to highlight and celebrate legal advocacy for children and youth in various legal areas.
  • The series has featured advocates who work on a range of issues, including child welfare, immigration, education, juvenile justice, mental health, LGBTQ+ youth, tribal youth, and unhoused youth.
  • The advocates profiled share a commitment to representing the whole child, listening to their clients, and pushing boundaries to create systemic change.
  • They emphasize the importance of self-care, building community, and recognizing the human rights and civil rights aspect of representing children.
Three Years of Fearless Children’s Lawyers
Moyo Studio via Getty Images

In March 2020, the Children’s Rights Litigation Committee launched the Fearless Children’s Lawyer of the Month series with the goal of highlighting and celebrating zealous legal advocacy on behalf of children and youth in a variety of legal arenas. As we approach our third anniversary, we reflect on what the series has taught us. Below are just some of the amazing advocates from our series. We invite you to revisit the profiles of all the fearless advocates we have lifted up.

A hallmark of the advocacy of the series is representing the whole child even while focusing on specialized issues. The list below demonstrates the breadth of legal issues covered in the advocates’ work.

  • Child Welfare: Claire Bazata, a lawyer in a small town in Nebraska, who represents children and youth primarily in the child welfare system.
  • Immigration: Mickey Donovan-Kaloust, the directing attorney at the Immigrant Defenders Law Center in Riverside, California.
  • Education: Amir Whitaker, senior policy counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California.
  • Juvenile Justice: Brooke Burns, managing counsel of the Juvenile Unit at the Ohio Office of the Public Defender.
  • Mental Health: Amanda Walsh, the director of the Illinois Children’s Mental Health Partnership.
  • Tribal Youth: Chorisia Folkman, a child and youth attorney at the Tulalip Office of Civil Legal Aid.
  • Unhoused Youth: Rhea Yo, the legal supervisor of Legal Counsel for Youth and Children’s Youth Homelessness Program in King County, Washington.

We’ve also profiled lawyers doing impact work, like Atteeyah Hollie, a senior attorney at the Southern Center for Human Rights, who has litigated cases challenging the denial of the right to counsel for children and poor Georgians, illegally closed courtrooms, inhumane prison conditions, and the denial of utility services because of court debt. There also are profiles of nontraditional children’s lawyers, like Tyrone Hanley, who focuses on anti-poverty work at the National Center for Lesbian Rights. We have profiled newer attorneys—for example, Vallen Solomon, who graduated from law school in 2020 and who works to prevent youth homelessness—and more experienced lawyers—for example, Annie Lee, who recently stepped down from her longtime role as executive director of TeamChild.

In addition to representing the whole child, these advocates also share other similarities. All bring humility to their work and a commitment to listening to child and youth clients. Rhea Yo told us that “[n]o amount of education and experience makes me an expert in the lives of my clients.” Many of the lawyers we profiled expressed their admiration for their child and youth clients, such as Robert Latham, who sees his child clients as the fearless ones and who says that he’s just doing his best to make sure their voices are heard. These fearless lawyers also stop at nothing for their clients. As Cristina Law Merriman told us, she sees her job as “pushing at those boundaries, filing creative motions, and creating greater change in the system.”

One of the most uplifting features of the series is the advice and wishes shared by so many of these fearless advocates:

  • Richelle Mahaffey’s advice for new lawyers in the field is simple but inspiring: “no matter how difficult things look, always focus on what needs to happen next to help your client achieve their goals. Young people often feel ‘written off’ by schools, courts, and sometimes even families, and they need lawyers who won’t give in to negativity. Focusing on a hopeful narrative for the case not only helps the client—it also helps lawyers avoid burn-out and compassion fatigue.”
  • Erin Lovell advised children’s advocates to “take care of yourself and build community.” She goes on to say that secondary trauma is real. Self-care is a necessity, not a luxury. Erin encourages children’s advocates to “seek out and help create a positive work community that invites authenticity, continual learning, and teamwork.” She advises that the work is hard and will not be complete in our lifetimes, but if we take care of our well-being and work and grow in community, we can make an impact.
  • Stephanie Johnson shared her hope that if she could, she would ensure every child who needed it had a competent, skilled lawyer helping to solve the child’s problems with empathy. And she hopes that future children’s attorneys will see, and help the world see, that representing children is human rights and civil rights work and work of the utmost importance.

We are humbled by the dedication, creativity, and spirit of these fearless advocates and look forward to bringing a spotlight to the incredible work of others. The series has brought our committee so much joy, as we connect with lawyers from around the country and hear about the work they are doing. We started this series to inspire children’s lawyers around the country and ended up inspiring ourselves.