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  • Children’s Advocacy Clinic

Children's Advocacy Clinic FAQs

When can I apply? 

Students interested in gaining practical experience in this area of law should consider applying to the Children's Advocacy Clinic when the application period is announced to current students. Penn State Law students earn four credits per semester. Law students apply for certified legal intern status pursuant to Pa.B.A.R. 321 and 322.

What kinds of projects does the Clinic handle? 

Law students are engaged in the direct representation of children in various civil matters. Cases include adoption, dependency, custody, and abuse. Students are involved in real courtroom experiences and learn basic lawyering skills of oral argument, research, and writing. Graduate social work students research resources to assist children, help develop case goals, and communicate with caseworkers, case managers, and other professionals.

Local courts appoint the clinic to represent children in one of two ways. Most commonly, a student serves as guardian ad litem, representing a child's best interests to the court while expressing the child's wishes. Occasionally, the court appoints the clinic to be a child's attorney to strictly represent the child's wishes. Law students are responsible for all phases of the legal case, including interviewing clients, drafting pleadings and correspondence, negotiating with other parties, and representing clients at hearings or conferences.

Another component of the clinical program enables some students to focus their legal skills in the area of policy and legislation. The students research systemic problems in the child welfare system and then work with state and federal government officials to develop broad solutions.

How is the Children's Advocacy Clinic structured? 

The Children's Advocacy Clinic provides an interdisciplinary setting, partnering law students with

  • graduate-level social work students
  • pediatric residents from the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, and
  • child psychiatry fellows from the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medial Center

Law students selected for the clinic choose one of two advocacy experiences (1) legal representation of children in the court system, or (2) policy and legislative work on behalf of children. Students who choose legal representation of children work on cases in various civil actions, including juvenile dependency, adoption, custody, and domestic violence matters. Students who choose policy work will have the opportunity to review and potentially draft legislation, research policies for systemic reform, meet with legislators, etc.

What kind of student commitment is expected in the CAC?

The Children’s Advocacy Clinic has limited enrollment. Students earn four credits per semester and may choose a single-semester or a dual-semester commitment. Students are expected to average 12 to 16 hours per week in the clinic and attend a two-hour class session each week. Students receive a grade for their participation in the clinic each semester. Additionally, the clinic offers limited opportunities for paid employment during semester breaks and the summer. In order to become a certified legal intern under Pennsylvania Supreme Court rules and represent clients in the courtroom, a student must complete approximately 43 credits by the time he or she applies for certified legal intern status. Students who are focused on policy and legislation need not be certified and could participate in the clinic after completing two semesters of law school. Students work under the supervision of attorneys licensed in Pennsylvania.  

What kinds of tasks do Clinic students perform?

As certified legal interns, students are responsible for all aspects of representing clients. Working under the direction and supervision of licensed attorneys, students learn basic lawyering skills like drafting legal documents, interviewing clients, investigating facts, completing legal research, communicating with opposing counsel and experts, and oral advocacy for court hearings. While the Children's Advocacy Clinic experience is focused on representing child clients, these basic skills are easily applicable to other areas of the law.

Law students who choose policy and legislative work typically research laws and policies of other states, draft legislation, and meet with legislators, youth, and other advocates. These skills translate into to other areas of policy advocacy.

Because all clinic students work closely together and share their experiences during the weekly class session, students involved in courtroom representation are exposed to and also involved in policy development, while policy students often learn about courtroom representation from the legal advocates. All clinic students also learn about collaboration through their partnership with medical residents and social workers.

What are the prerequisites for the Clinic?

Juvenile Law is a pre- or co-requisite to participation in the Children's Advocacy Clinic. If a student chooses to participate in the clinic as a certified legal intern, it is preferred that he or she also takes Professional Responsibility and Evidence. The Children’s Advocacy Clinic also welcomes students who have significant work or educational experiences related to children.