Lawyers In Training
A Mizzou School of Law graduate talks about his life-changing experience at the MU Family Violence Clinic.
Raised in tiny Purdy, Mo., Anthony Cross thought he wanted to teach history before he entered law school at Mizzou. His friendly and studious nature might steer him in a pedagogical direction someday, but for now, he is pursuing a more pressing dream: helping those who have trouble helping themselves.
The School of Law’s Family Violence Clinic (FVC) is one of MU’s five clinics that provide first-hand experience for lawyers-to-be. Directed by Professor Mary Beck since 1993, the FVC handles about 60 referrals for civil orders of protection per year. Students obtain remedies desired by their clients in more than 95 percent of those cases.
“Some people assume that everyone does some kind of internship in law school, but that’s not required at all,” says Cross, who completed the Fall 2012 semester at the FVC. “The first time you sit down with a client for a face-to-face interview and they start crying as they explain how their spouse or partner beat them, verbally abused them, or physically or sexually abused their child, it can be hard to hear.”
Before they begin taking cases, Beck prepares the high-ability students with legal drafting exercises and mock hearings. As the clients are referred to the FVC from police departments, shelters, courts, mental health centers and attorney’s offices, the students make the initial contact within 24 hours. Beck advises them as they create a safety plan, an action plan and a litigation plan for each client.
The safety plan might involve securing a place to stay with a client’s relative if he or she is in danger, or making sure the client has the children’s belongings gathered. An action plan might include contacting a local junior college to send an application. The litigation plan is more complicated: identifying necessary information, investigation and research plans, and rounding up witnesses.
“The students do a lot of self-report and self-evaluation,” Beck says. “Most of my students are incredibly enthusiastic and eager. It’s one of their first opportunities to help someone who’s in need, and they just can’t work hard enough.”
For many students, such as Cross, it is their first up-close experience with domestic violence.
“The victim often doesn’t have the power and control to leave, and even when the victim leaves, he or she might not be safe,” says Kim Anderson, associate professor at the MU School of Social Work and domestic violence researcher. “Often times, victims with children want to still be available to protect the children. If the victim leaves, it’s possible that the abuser could get joint custody. Most often, the reason is financial. Victims are literally leaving with the clothes on their backs.”