By Kathryn Boulton, J.D. ’15
Prior to joining the Family and Domestic Violence Law Clinic, I had virtually no direct services experience to speak of. Much of my work in other courses and clinics had focused on broad, policy-based questions of an international character, e.g., how to promote legal abortion reform in Burma or the status of sexual and gender minorities under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Women’s rights and health have always been at the forefront of my interests, and indeed what led me to pursue a law degree.
The clinic provided an incredibly valuable contact and also challenged my expectations and skills. My cases primarily concerned divorce and all of the difficult questions that it poses: custody, child support, division of marital debts and assets, etc. In practice, these questions are not simply about the interpretation of a legal standard or figuring out the most logical way to divide up a particular asset. Rather, at an individual level, addressing these questions means gaining a truly intimate picture of a client’s life and goals: medical records, tax returns, outstanding loans owed to a family member, the reason for selecting a particular child daycare. At the same time that you are building this highly textured portrait of her life, you remain attentive to the bigger-picture questions: What does she envision moving forward? Where can she accept compromise? Where is her position non-negotiable? Her goals and the way she approaches litigation will be informed by the history of a complex (and often abusive) relationship. As her student attorney, it was my job to truly understand these experiences and priorities, and to represent them as zealously and ably as I could.
Although I intend to return to policy advocacy post-graduation, the Family and Domestic Violence Law Clinic has been an invaluable experience. It exposed me to new ways of thinking about the connection between the law and individual women’s experiences, and I will always be grateful for the way my clients opened their lives to me.