Each year, the foster-care system cares for approximately 400,000 children. Legal cases involving these children raise complex questions: Should the child have been placed in foster care? What types of services should be put into place to reunify the family? Is the termination of parental rights warranted? Should the child return home to her family or be adopted by relatives or foster parents?
These are but a few of the challenging questions faced by students in the Child Advocacy Law Clinic (CALC), a seven-credit clinic open to second- and third-year law students.
Students taking this clinic represent children, parents, or the Department of Health and Human Services in trial court cases. Each student team has a mix of child welfare cases representing each of the three major roles, so they get to see and understand the lawyer role from different vantage points and with different concerns and interests.
About the Child Advocacy Law Clinic
Welcome to the Child Advocacy Law Clinic, the oldest child welfare law clinic in the country in which law students, under the supervision of experienced faculty members, represent children, parents, and other parties in foster care proceedings.
Created in 1976, CALC has represented thousands of families involved in the child welfare system and has trained thousands of students who now serve in leadership positions in nonprofit organizations, state and local government agencies, and private firms. CALC graduates often rank their involvement in the clinic as the most formative experience in their legal education.
In addition to directly representing children and parents in foster care proceedings, students in the clinic may draft statutes, conduct trainings, write articles, and handle appeals.
The work of the students and faculty has led to systemic reform on both the state and national level and has earned the praise of judges, policy makers, and others.
Information for Students
What You'll Learn
Our students don't just learn about law, they learn to be lawyers.
Students are in control of their cases, under supervision, and complete all the steps required to take a case to court, just as they will when they begin practicing after law school. Students work in partnerships and find that they have the true lead on their cases.
Three clinical law faculty, who are specialists in child advocacy law, supervise up to eight students each and act as advisers, but clinic students make the decisions about their cases. With such responsibility, students are thoroughly prepared for each aspect of representing their clients, for their court experience, and for working in the field of child advocacy.
You’ll also address the complex legal, social, emotional, ethical, and public policy questions of when and how the state ought to intervene in family life on behalf of children.
How the Clinic Works
The CALC program begins with a series of classes to prepare students for what will happen in court. Class sessions cover:
- child welfare and procedure
- preliminary hearing simulations
- interviewing clients, especially children
- dealing with evidence
- case and trial preparation, including direct and cross examination
- mock trial practices
Teams are formed and cases are assigned in the first week of class.
From this point through the end of the semester, teams participate in a weekly seminar, which includes discussions about lawyering skills and presentation of case rounds in which decisions by the student-attorneys are examined. Students in the clinic regularly work with professionals, faculty, and student colleagues from social work, pediatrics, psychology and psychiatry.
Join the Clinic
Some law students are drawn to the clinic because of their interest in child welfare law or public interest lawyering. Others are particularly attracted to the intense litigation experience where students end up in court quite often.
Who should apply?
All second- and third-year law students interested in gaining litigation experience should consider applying for the Child Advocacy Law Clinic. Although many of our students come to the clinic with an interest or prior experience in child welfare law, others do not.
Students looking to spend a semester focusing on key litigation skills such as interviewing, negotiating, client counseling, and courtroom advocacy while addressing an important need—the interests of families involved in the foster care system—should apply.
How do I register?
Second- and third-year law students may register for the seven-credit clinic using the Law School's computerized registration system. There are no prerequisites for the course. Information about registering for the clinic can be found here.
Is the clinic graded?
The seven credits students receive for taking the clinic are graded. Students are informed of the relevant grading criteria on the first day of class. Students should expect to spend a minimum of 10 to 15 hours a week—outside of class—on clinic work.
In addition, students should expect to have court hearings that may conflict with other classes.
Bergstrom Child Welfare Law Summer Fellowship
The Bergstrom Child Welfare Law Summer Fellowship is committed to inspiring the best and brightest law students to pursue careers in child welfare law. Through the fellowship, students gain experience and insight into the field and provide much needed services to various child welfare offices specializing in representing children, parents, and social service agencies. After attending a training session in May at Michigan Law, fellows spend at least 10 weeks at a child welfare law internship.
Who We Are
Vivek S. Sankaran
- Clinical Professor of Law
- Director, Child Advocacy Law Clinic
- Director, Child Welfare Appellate Clinic
Frank E. Vandervort
- Clinical Professor of Law
- Co-director, Workers' Rights Clinic
- Child Advocacy Law Clinic