MORGANTOWN, Va. (WV News) – Rachael Mullins holds a teaching degree from Marshall University and spent two years in the English department at a high school in Logan County before realizing that she liked the students but not the teaching.
âI really couldn’t tell the difference I wanted with my teaching degree. I needed a law degree, âsays Mullins, now a sophomore law student at West Virginia University College of Law. The Logan County native is one of three externs in a new program that teaches law students how to provide quality legal representation in abuse and neglect cases. Interns do 100 hours of fieldwork this semester and spend two hours per week in class.
They are overseen by two attorneys from Morgantown Lyons Phillips Legal Group, PLLC. The program is funded by the West Virginia Courts Improvement Program (CIP) Board, the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeal appointed to oversee federal grants that improve placement and court proceedings in Virginia. -Western. The CIP runs regular training sessions for active lawyers who wish to be ad litem guardians, court-appointed lawyers who represent children in child abuse and neglect cases.
West Virginia has 251 qualified attorneys who can perform this work, which is only 5.4% of the 4,631 active members of the West Virginia State Bar. The state needs many more qualified lawyers to represent litigants in abuse and neglect cases. The CIP therefore decided to work with the law school to encourage more students to pursue this type of work.
âOur main goal with this partnership is to raise awareness of the possibility of representing children and families in the abuse and neglect system and to give externs hands-on experience of what constitutes quality legal representation in these cases. We want to increase the number of lawyers who wish to practice abuse and neglect law so that children benefit from quality legal representation, âsaid Cindy Largent-Hill, Director of the Services Division. Childhood and Youth Affairs of the Supreme Court, which manages the program and provides staff support to the IPC. âWe have a need statewide for more qualified and passionate lawyers who will practice in the area of ââabuse and neglect. Some counties are struggling to have enough abuse and neglect lawyers, âsaid Kristen Antolini, a lawyer on the IPC board of directors. She supervises the externs with lawyer Teresa Lyons.
âI think this is the most important need we have in the state from a legal standpoint. We need the best lawyers we can have to represent children and parents, âsaid Antolini. âUnder the leadership of Cindy Largent-Hill, the CIP works diligently to provide relevant legal education to both the WVU College of Law and practicing lawyers. We are really trying to change the legal education process for the current law school and lawyers, âAntolini said.
Day students attend hearings, visit group homes and juvenile centers, make home visits, attend multidisciplinary team meetings, conduct legal research and prepare legal documents. Mullins had some experience in the field as she spent her summer 2021 internship at a nonprofit organization that practices ad litem custodial work in southern West Virginia. She said the clerkship gave her more experience and the weekly classes gave her the basic academic knowledge she needed. âWe are really starting to be on the ground and talk with the judges and with the practitioners and with the families and the foster parents.
Teresa and Kristen make sure we’re very involved in the conversation, âsaid another extern, Carrie Miller, who moved to West Virginia to study law. âIt’s the perfect combination of practice and teaching, balancing the two is something you don’t get much in law school. I feel very fortunate to be able to live this revealing experience. Like Mullins, Miller had not initially planned to be a lawyer. She holds an undergraduate degree in art history from the University of North Carolina-Charlotte and a Masters of Public Administration from the University of Colorado-Denver. Then she decided to pursue public interest law.
âI knew I wanted to focus on juvenile law and family law in one way or another,â Miller said. âI have had personal experiences with my own family which were difficult when I was a child. My parents are divorced. I feel personally committed to helping children. The third extern, Christian LaParne, said his interest in family law was sparked by his mother, a family medicine lawyer in central Pennsylvania. âIt’s so hard to see these little kids and where they live,â LaParne said.
âI always like to feel like I have a positive impact on these children. . . . I want to take the kids home with me. It is shocking to see that the life situations of these children are very different from my upbringing. Children touch your heart for sure. Mullins said, âIf you are interested in family law, public defender work, or any other type of public service work, then abuse and neglect is where you need to be. Children are at the heart of public interest law.
“The College of Law is grateful for the opportunity to partner with the Courts Improvement Program Board, as well as Kristen Antolini and Teresa Lyons, to facilitate this invaluable experiential learning opportunity for our students.” said Jessica A. Haught, director of the law school’s Fitzsimmons Center for Litigation and Advocacy.
âThrough these types of public service clerkships, our students develop essential advocacy skills and gain an appreciation for the real difference they can make in advocating for children and families. Given the strong need for high quality advocacy and representation of children and families in the statewide system of abuse and neglect, the College of Law is committed to providing our students with this type. experience and training to better prepare them to practice in this field. important and to serve our communities.