Family Law Curriculum
Lawyers deal with many issues that impact families. Many University of Richmond School of Law students will go into a private practice where they are likely to represent clients with family law issues including divorce, child custody and support, spousal support, adoption, and domestic violence. Other students will become public lawyers, representing state, county, and municipal entities that are responsible for enforcing child support and protective orders. Public lawyers represent departments of social services as they seek to protect children and spouses from violence and rehabilitate families so they can care for their own children. Law school alumni also become court appointed counsel for parents and guardians ad litem for children. Even students who enter fields outside the family law arena will likely confront family law issues on a regular basis. The lawyer who represents a client in a contract or other matter may well be consulted in the event that the client has a family related issue. This overview is designed to give all students at the law school information regarding opportunities in family law.
In light of the importance of family law, all students should consider taking the introductory course in Family Law. This course provides students with a general overview of the law governing families, looking at formation and dissolution of marriage, pre-marital contracts, property settlement agreements, grounds and defenses for divorce, the parent child relationship, child support, custody and visitation, domestic violence, equitable distribution of marital or community property on divorce, and the role of the family lawyer.
Upper-Level Family Law Electives
After taking the introductory course, students considering a family law practice should take additional electives. The law school offers a rich variety of electives designed to broaden the student’s knowledge of the fields. These include Family Law Procedure, Domestic Violence Seminar (satisfies upper level writing requirement), Children and the Law, Collaborative Law, and Professional Responsibility - Family Law. These courses provide students with a broad base of knowledge on which to launch a family law career.
Electives in Other Areas
Additional electives that will enrich the knowledge base of any student interested in practicing family law include Estate Planning, Wills and Trusts, and Estate and Gift Tax, Federal Income Tax, Bioethics, and Education Law. The following practical skills courses are also recommended as valuable: Alternative Dispute Resolution, Negotiation, Interviewing and Counseling, and The Role of the Lawyer in Mediation.
In addition, the law school currently offers numerous clinical opportunities that are available to students in their second and third years of law school with an interest in families and children. Students in the Family Law Clinic represent low-income residents in the City of Richmond with family law issues, assisted by social work and doctoral psychology students from the School of Social Work and Psychology Department at Virginia Commonwealth University. The Education Rights Clinic provides second and third year law students with the opportunity to work with families involved in disputes with school systems over the provision of special education services. The Children's Defense Clinic represents juveniles accused of offenses that would be crimes if committed by adults. These courses provide students with an opportunity to apply the skills learned in prior courses while representing clients with significant legal problems. Enrollment in each of these clinics is limited to eight students a semester.
The Clinical Placement Program offers numerous family law externship opportunities. Placements are available with the Richmond, Henrico, and Chesterfield Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Courts; the Office of the Richmond City Attorney, representing the Department of Social Services; the Legal Aid Justice Center; the Virginia Poverty Law Center; the Richmond Public Defender’s Office, Juvenile Division; and the Richmond and Chesterfield Commonwealth Attorney Offices, Juvenile Divisions.
Dual Degree Programs
In conjunction with Virginia Commonwealth University, law students can pursue a joint J.D./M.S.W degree. Applicants for the dual degree program must meet the admission standards of the law school and the graduate division of the VCU School of Social Work. Students accepted into this program will be permitted to count 12 semester hours of work in the law school toward satisfaction of the degree requirements of the M.S.W. program, and 12 semester hours of work in the M.S.W. program toward satisfaction of the degree requirements of the law school. Accordingly, students can meet the requirements for both degrees in four years.