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Student Lawyers Making an Impact on Family and Domestic Violence Cases

Students in the Family and Domestic Violence Law Clinic manage all aspects of their cases. Under the supervision of Associate Director and Senior Clinical Instructor Nnena Odim, they conduct intake, provide advice, and represent clients in both Family and District Court in Massachusetts. They also draft pleadings, analyze discovery, negotiate with opposing counsel, and work with complex financial issues. These students are more than lawyers. They support clients through difficult and stressful experiences, and make a real impact on their lives.

This past academic year, four students – Alyssa Greenberg, J.D. ’15, Kathryn Mullen, J.D. ’15, Kate Aizpuru, J.D. ’14, and Lana Birbrair, J.D. ’15 – did just that.

Alyssa signed up for the clinic to get substantive litigation experience. “I was not disappointed,” she said. “I drafted complaints for divorce, motions for temporary orders, and discovery requests; I prepared to take depositions, led a negotiation, and represented my client at a hearing in Probate and Family court; I spoke to my clients regularly, counseling them and working with them to determine what course their case should take.” Alyssa’s work has helped women who were married to abusive husbands get the closure and financial support they needed.

For Kathryn, representing clients “has been deeply rewarding”. Kathryn represented a husband seeking a divorce. “This case was not only an excellent learning opportunity, but a good reminder that anyone can be a victim of domestic abuse,” she said. Kathryn’s client experienced great psychological distress, suffered serious health problems and was also in dire financial straits. Yet, despite the difficult circumstances, he did not want anything except a divorce on grounds of cruel and abusive treatment. This “meant he would have to testify about his wife’s behavior,” said Kathryn. “It was important to him to tell his story on the record.” The experience contributed to and shaped her desire to become a public interest lawyer.

Kate Aizpuru signed up for the clinic to translate her interests in gender issues into practical experience. “I wanted to spend some time learning the types of skills I wouldn’t be able to get in a classroom: working with clients, drafting legal documents, and appearing in court,” she said. She represented a client who had suffered domestic violence. “At first, I felt nervous—I had only appeared in court on motions, never for a full trial,” said Kate. But the more she thought about the skills she had acquired throughout her two semesters at the clinic, the more confident she felt, and took charge of the entire case. “It was an incredible experience,” she said. Kate delivered the opening statement at trial, answered questions about the case’s procedural history, objected to inadmissible evidence, and cross-examined her client’s husband. Several weeks later, she received a favorable judgment for her client.

Lana took on a divorce case involving domestic violence and custody. “By the end of the semester there was a  6 inch case file with 8 pounds of paper representing 10 weeks of investigation and research,” she said. By her second week at the clinic, Lana was in court seeking a custody order. She met with her client regularly, culled through medical records, tax filings, negotiated with opposing counsel, and subpoenaed records from various banks. She even examined deeds to real estate, written in French. “After a semester, I appreciate the days when we can get a “good” or “great” result for a client we can genuinely help,” she said.

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