Students in TeamChild clinic represent children, gain legal experience
As a team, the supervising attorney, staff and students of UF Law’s Gator TeamChild Juvenile Law Clinic wake up almost every day to zealously represent children who find themselves in the midst of the legal system.
In teams of two, the eight students enrolled in the Gator TeamChild Juvenile Law Clinic and the four advance students are assigned cases ranging from juvenile delinquency to family dependency.
“There’s a whole gamut of things that we’re asked to do in our representation of children,” said the clinic’s director, Legal Skills Professor Meshon Rawls.
Many of the clinic’s clients are referred from professionals in the delinquency and dependency systems when the client has special needs that span beyond what the courts alone can provide, such as mental health, social and educational needs, Rawls said.
As certified legal interns, these 12 students have the authority to fully represent their clients in all cases under Rawls’ supervision.
“I came into law school never wanting to do litigation,” said Caitlin Mitchell (3L). “Through this clinic, I had the opportunity to be before the court without assistance, and it helped me discover what I want to do.”
Students in the clinic, which opened in 1998, are assigned about four cases and are required to attend hearings and depositions, meet with clients in detention centers and file motions.
“We know where to stand, we know how to deal with a judge and we know how to write and file motions,” Mitchell said.
Rawls teaches them how to implement what they learned in their substantive courses leading up to their enrollment in the clinic.
“I want students to learn to practice law on purpose,” Rawls said. “If they are having issues in their cases, I will sit down with them and help them realize what they are doing to miss the mark.”
In many situations, cases will carry on through multiple semesters. Students currently assigned to cases keep detailed logs so that the transition to a new team of students does not interfere with the progress of these cases. After the completion of their first semester in the juvenile law clinic, some students may elect to enroll in the advance clinic to act as mentors to the new students and continue their work.
“A lot of our responsibilities include helping the newer students prepare for court and editing their documents and motions,” said Mitchell, a second-semester advance student.
As part of a nationwide network of TeamChild clinics, the clinic has the goal of advocating holistically for youth, which is what distinguishes it from the other clinics offered through the UF Law clinical program.
“We are aligned with the theory behind the unified family court because we are one entity representing a child so that the best decisions can be made in any and all of the child’s cases,” Rawls said. “Our motto is one child, one advocate, one voice.”