By Elisa Hevia, J.D. ’17
I was drawn to the Child Advocacy Clinic because it enables its students to give a voice to the voiceless, but more specifically, to give a voice to children, who are unfortunately too often overlooked in our society. I was impressed that the clinic’s structure allows its students great flexibility and variety in the type of work you can engage in (education, juvenile justice, impact litigation, etc.), the type of organization you are placed at (nonprofit, courthouse, DA or AG offices, etc.), and the location of your organization (essentially, worldwide). Going into the program, I knew I wanted to work in Miami, Florida. I will be returning home to south Florida after I graduate, and it was really important to me to work in a community that I felt deeply connected to, a desire to give back, and an urgency to establish meaningful professional connections.
I am thrilled to be placed at the Miami-Dade County Children’s Courthouse in the Eleventh Judicial Circuit of Florida. I am working with the Honorable Maria Sampedro-Iglesia, who oversees the Growth Renewed through Acceptance, Change and Empowerment G.R.A.C.E. Court. The G.R.A.C.E. Court is the first specialty court in the United States exclusively devoted to children who have been identified as victims of commercial sexual exploitation. My main project is to create a Benchbook for the court, outlining the nuanced areas of the law that frequently arise in this courtroom. Working remotely on a long-term project has allowed me to retain my independence, hone my time management and research skills, and practice the important task of synthesizing lengthy, complex information into simple summaries.
I’ve learned an enormous amount through the Child Advocacy Clinic, not just through my work with the G.R.A.C.E. Court, but by listening to my peers’ experiences during our weekly seminar. The seminar helps me put my work into perspective and gain a deeper understanding of what it means to be a public interest lawyer, and specifically an advocate for children. I was surprised to learn that children’s rights is an often overlooked area in the public interest sector, and I was shocked to learn that much of the work related to children’s rights is actually done by advancing parents’ rights. Overall, this experience has been wonderful, and I am so glad I decided to shift the focus of my course load this semester from black letter law to clinical work.