Clinics change lives, give real-world law practice experienceFor Diana Korn (3L), the hardest part is forcing victims to relive the nightmares. Nightmares so bad, so horrific, it drives Korn to take action.
Nightmares like this.
A woman came to Korn battered and bruised, and her internal organs were injured from beatings. She feared for her life, her freedom, her future.
But telling the truth, talking with Korn, could mean certain death based on the laws of the country of her birth. Her future in America was bound by marriage to a visa held by her abuser.
Refuge from the beatings could only come from divorce. But divorce, for this woman, just wasn’t an option. Divorce, in her country, was grounds for death. And divorce in this country, was grounds for deportation.
So the beatings continued – until she couldn’t take it anymore, and until she came to Korn, a third-year law student at the Intimate Partner Violence Assistant Clinic (IPVAC) and certified legal intern.
“Being fatally abused is not farfetched (in her country),” Korn said “Women are property of their husbands.”
For this woman, IPVAC was her salvation, her freedom, her asylum. Korn was her guardian angel.
“Having this type of clinic available is lifesaving,” Korn said. “It really can mean life or death for the victim.”
Korn, who is completing her third semester in IPVAC, helped this particular nightmare become less grim. Korn, in her own words, helped to save this woman’s life.
Through her work with IPVAC, Korn helped the woman file for a political asylum visa so that her freedom in America would no longer be tied to her husband’s visa. Korn filed an injunction to keep the beatings at bay. And Korn helped the woman realize divorce wasn’t going to result in a perilous situation for her.
“She didn’t know this was an option,” Korn said. “She didn’t know (divorce) from her husband in America was possible.”
In conjunction with the College of Medicine, Shands Teaching Hospital and Peaceful Paths Domestic Abuse Network, IPVAC provides legal assistance to victims of domestic violence while providing an array of counseling services.
“It’s sort of like a one-stop shop,” Korn said. “(We’re) giving victims the tools they need to stand on their own two feet and helping them realize they don’t deserve to be beaten.”
But both Teresa Drake, IPVAC director, and Korn emphasize that not all cases are this horrific.
Drake is quick to mention IPVAC’s strengths as a legal clinic first, and a family law clinic second. IPVAC, she said, deals with many areas of the law, including injunction/family law, immigration law, international law and landlord/tenant law. Violence, she said, touches on every area of the law.
“The skills you learn in a clinic are transferable to any area of the law,” Drake said.
And the skills Korn is learning have roots more than 20 years deep.
Korn’s mother worked for more than 20 years as a Child Protection Team psychologist, advocating for physically, mentally and sexually abused children. For Korn, the skills she’s learning now were instilled long before law school.
“Representing victims in court gives my life purpose,” Korn said. “It’s my way of continuing my mother’s good work.”
Korn said she spends about 30 hours each week earning school credit in the clinic. And, for Korn, 30 hours isn’t nearly enough.
“It’s a lot, but when you’re doing such good, you don’t want to leave,” she said.
And the skills Korn is learning now, she said, have roots that will grow for years.
“I know now what I’m going to do with the rest of my life,” Korn said. “They’ve given me much more than I’ve given them in that sense.”
Drake, who isn’t bashful to praise the real-life work of her students in IPVAC, wants future clinic students to know the impact they can have not only on their clients but on themselves.
“Especially in this economy, these students are just so much more marketable,” she said. “People can’t afford to hire students and drop three, six, nine, 12 months training them.”
Noting IPVAC is the first-of-its-kind legal clinic in the country, Drake said her students are “learning to roll with the punches” in the real world of trials, judges and actual clients.
And for Korn, who is just one of 64 law students in the civil and criminal clinics offered by the UF College of Law this semester, according to program manager, Patti Williams, graduating in two months doesn’t scare her at all.
“I really believe I could graduate tomorrow and practice law,” Korn said. “(Clinics) could give your life purpose.”
Students who would like to apply for fall semester clinics are encouraged to apply by Friday’s deadline. Applications are available at: http://www.law.ufl.edu/centers/hawkins/students/index.shtml.