Family law is inherently interdisciplinary in scope, and so two law clinics at The University of Arizona that have worked separately are now merging.
Students and faculty serving clients under the UA James E. Rogers College of Law's Child Advocacy and Domestic Violence Law clinics – which operate like teaching law offices – have long been working with individuals whose particular situations have overlapped, but the clinics have maintained separate offices.
Beginning this fall, the two clinics will begin operating jointly as the Child and Family Law Clinic.
Co-directed by Zelda B. Harris and Paul Bennett, two UA clinical professors, the clinic is intended to be more holistic, allowing students to get involved with clients with a more diverse range of complex situations.
"Students have to have a richer understanding of how the system works," Harris said. UA law students will work under the supervision of both directors while offering advice and representing clients in various courts in Tucson and Pima County.
Harris said the collaboration should also result in a more effective way to manage time between the two clinics while having a "broader impact in the community."
As part of their studies, UA law students must fulfill a skills course by either enrolling in trial advocacy or one of the school's clinics, which allows them to represent clients while also collaborating with legal and social service agencies. Currently, two dozen students are enrolled in the merger clinic.
Harris said that over the last two years she and Bennett have found that students tended to register for both their clinics and, increasingly, the types of situations they came across would overlap between the two clinics.
"Students reported great things about the benefits of interviewing, representing and working with adult clients, but also being able to work with minors and how they were using different skills," Harris said.
That is why the connecting the clinics seemed a natural decision to make, Bennett said.
"Law is becoming more interdisciplinary everyday. There is almost no area of practice where you aren't working in an interdisciplinary way," he said. "There are a number of educational benefits in being exposed to broader aspects of family law."
Family law covers a broad range of topics, including divorce, marriage and domestic partnerships, child custody and support, adoption, domestic violence, child abuse, juvenile justice and a range of other topics.
For instance, Harris said that when representing children, UA law students found that some of their parents were divorced or dealing with domestic violence issues.
Bennett also noted that some of his students worked with teen parents and found that their issues were complicated because of the layers of challenges faced – with child support, employment or school, for instance – which, he noted, could be better explored and handled though a clinic merger.
"Family problems are not discreet; they overlap into other areas – at least their legal problems do," Bennett said. "Our plan is not to just have two sides of one program, but to actually integrate it."
By integrating the clinics and offering students with a fully range of experiences, Bennett said "that's something they can take with them no matter what practice they choose."