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Family Law Clinic FAQs

What is the Family Law Clinic?

The Family Law Clinic is a legal clinic staffed by Penn State Dickinson School of Law students, who provide legal services for clients in family law matters such as divorce, custody, support and protection from abuse, in the Court of Common Pleas of Centre County, Pennsylvania.  The law student Certified Legal Interns can work on every step of the litigation process, supervised by Penn State Law Professor Jill Engle, a licensed Pennsylvania attorney.

How do students represent clients in the Family Law Clinic?

Certified Legal Interns with the Penn State Family Law Clinic, under Professor Engle’s supervision, directly represent clients by:

  • Interviewing clients and developing case theories and strategies;
  • Drafting and filing court pleadings;
  • Advocating for clients in court at conferences and hearings;
  • Providing client centered counseling, including for victims of domestic violence; and
  • Negotiating settlement agreements.

The Family Law Clinic work gives students the opportunity to sharpen their litigation skills in real time, not just in court—which is often a minor component of a family law case—but also at the negotiating table, the client counseling space, and in case theory development.  Professor Engle’s attention to the theories of client-centered representation and professional responsibility also give students the opportunity to critically examine their cases in the context of the justice system at large.   

Does the Family Law Clinic do other types of work besides litigation?

Some Family Law Clinic students also work on family law-related policy projects.  Along with Clinic Director Professor Jill Engle, 2012 clinic students developed a child custody law training program for Penn State’s Clearinghouse for Military Families.  In 2013, the Clinic detailed Congress’ changes to the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) for the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence.  In 2013-14, Clinic students are working with local and state officials to declare freedom from domestic violence a fundamental human right.

What kind of student commitment is expected in the Family Law Clinic? 

The Clinic is limited in enrollment and is a graded commitment, with students earning five credits per semester. Students are expected to work approximately 18 to 20 hours each week in the Clinic, which includes a two-hour weekly class. The intensity of family law work offers students an opportunity to engage mentally in a way that is unique to the personal and emotionally compelling nature of family law work.

What courses are required for enrollment in the Family Law Clinic?

Family Law and Evidence are prerequisites. Students must complete at least 43 credits (or three full semesters) before beginning their clinic experience.  Enrollment is facilitated by online application, and is limited.

Who is the typical client? 

Family Law Clinic clients are those most in need of no-cost legal services: victims of domestic violence and the indigent. Clinic clients have family law cases in the Centre County Court of Common Pleas. Many clinic clients are involved in divorces or child custody disputes. Some cases involve abuse, which profoundly shapes the way both the client and student attorney approaches their legal case. The Clinic is limited in scope and only takes a few new cases each year, mostly by referral from partnering organizations. Individuals interested in representation must contact MidPenn Legal Services in State College, or the Centre County Women’s Resource Center Civil Legal Representation Project in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania to explore their eligibility.