August 2016Volume 22Number 1PDF icon PDF version (for best printing)

Debra Pogrund Stark of the John Marshall Domestic Violence Clinical Advocacy Program awarded the ISBA Excellence in Legal Education Award for 2016

Our Committee nominated The John Marshall Domestic Violence Clinical Advocacy Program for the ISBA Excellence in Legal Education Award for 2016. The Award was presented to Debra Pogrund Stark, the program director, at the 2016 Annual Meeting. I hope you will find her work interesting; I also hope others will share their award winners!

The John Marshall Domestic Violence Clinical Advocacy Program provides students with an opportunity to work with clients in all aspects of a domestic violence matter. This is the only law school program in the country that covers this many areas of law and promotes this diversity of interaction with clients.

The classroom component of the clinic, “Family Law & Domestic Violence Clinic,” gives students the opportunity to receive training in one or more of the eight practice areas covered in the course:

• Orders of protection

• Divorce/parentage

• Immigration relief

• Debt relief/credit repair

• Tax liability relief

• Crime victim compensation

• Housing relief

• Employment protections

The training begins online, then moves to a classroom component, prior to meeting clients. Students in two of the practice areas have minimum requirements of time spent in courtroom observation, as well.

Training, supervision, and feedback is provided by a team of supervising attorneys comprised of adjunct professors, volunteer lawyers, and Professor Debra Pogrund Stark, the founder and director of the Domestic Violence Clinical Advocacy Program.

A key initiative of the Domestic Violence Clinical Advocacy Program is the “Safety Through Knowledge Legal Assistance Project,” where trained students provide legal information and direct representation to assist survivors of domestic violence in becoming safe and independent. Case referrals come from Family Rescue, Between Friends, Apna Ghar, and the Chicago Children’s Advocacy Center. Survivors of domestic violence must go through one of those organizations for risk assessment and safety planning prior to becoming a client of the program. The students are paired with a supervising attorney to meet with a client and assist as they are able. Students work alongside the attorney on each phase of the case from initial client meeting, to pleadings, motion practice, and hearings.

Students in the Clinic perform legal consultations with survivors of domestic violence and provide information on each of the eight practice areas as applicable to the client they are meeting with, answer that client’s questions, and discuss options and recommended next steps to try to achieve the client’s goals or address the client’s concerns. When further legal assistance is needed beyond the consultation, the Clinic also provides further pro bono legal representation to the extent of its resources.

The clinic is only able to help a small fraction of the thousands of individuals in the Chicago area who need legal assistance. Therefore, the clinic also works on special projects that pro se survivors of domestic violence can use to assist them in exercising their rights under the law. Working on special projects or creating pro se materials or legal reform initiatives is also beneficial to some students with limited availability to perform clinical work during typical work-week hours.

The clinical program’s special projects have produced a comprehensive set of FAQs on divorce and related laws (which can be found at, that are tailored to the special issues domestic violence survivors face, and have several other projects already in progress:

• Video Simulation of a Plenary Order of Protection Hearing

• Creating a script for and video simulations of three plenary order of protection hearings (one by default, one by agreement, one that is contested) that pro se survivors of domestic violence can use to best prepare for their hearings.

• Creating Interactive Tax Liability Relief Forms

• Creating software with partner Jay Wegner, founder and CEO of Anyone Can Code, where pro se domestic violence survivors can answer a series of questions to determine which forms of relief they might qualify for and the completion of such forms.

• Debt Relief Project for Survivors of Domestic Violence

• Creating, publicizing, and implementing a protocol for how to respond to the special challenges that domestic violence survivors face when trying to understand and take control of their debts and credit reports.

• Project to Implement Better Domestic Violence Prevention Efforts in Custody Cases

• Tailoring form orders and pleadings in order of protection cases and in divorce/parentage cases where the abusive intimate partner has a child in common with the domestic violence survivor.

The John Marshall Law School Domestic Violence Clinical Advocacy Program is truly unique. Not only are the students learning practical legal skills—client interviewing, client counseling, case strategizing, drafting legal documents, legal research, fact investigation, problem spotting and problem solving, managing legal work, complying with ethical requirements, advocacy and oral communication, and legal analysis—they are significantly advancing the access to quality legal assistance for domestic violence victims.

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