GW Law School’s Domestic Violence Advocacy Project is among the recipients of the Department of Justice’s newly created Civil Legal Assistance Grant, U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno announced this month.
GW received $200,892 from the Office of Justice Programs Violence Against Women Grants Office.
GW DVAP, founded in 1993, is a clinic run by Law School Professor Joan Meier and GW clinical psychologist Dr. Mary Ann Dutton. Meier describes it as an interdisciplinary program in which law students represent victims of domestic violence in court and provide assistance in the GW Hospital emergency room.
One grant was given to a program in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. A total of $11.5 million was awarded across the country.
Meier said she feels the program was chosen because of its multidimensional approach – it combines training in the law and instruction in dealing with victims of domestic violence.
“(The selection committee) sees it as a model for an interdisciplinary approach. I don’t know of another program like this in the country,” Meier said. “It is a great model for clinical programs because many universities with law schools also have medical schools.”
Between six and 10 law students, most in their third year, work in the clinic each semester. The students represent victims who seek civil protection orders or are entering criminal courts to enforce the orders. Meier said she plans to use money from the grant to hire an additional full-time faculty member to assist with the program.
Third-year law student Kerri Ruttenberg, who worked in the clinic last spring, said it offers a unique experience for law students to become involved in the litigation process.
“We very often have to come in to the cases with, at most, two weeks to trial, so it is a very realistic experience,” Ruttenberg said. “Professor Meier is here as a consultant, but you are the ones making the important decision. It is a tremendous amount of responsibility.”
Another facet of the program, which Meier said will expand as a result of the grant, has students on call at the GW Hospital to provide counseling and legal advice to victims of abuse.
Students are on duty six nights a week, from 6 p.m. to midnight. If a victim of domestic violence is brought into the hospital emergency room, the student on duty is paged and comes to the hospital solely to offer legal and psychological advice to the victims. The students do not offer to take cases in the emergency room.
Meier said she hopes the grant will help the law school establish a sister clinic for younger law students who have not had enough course work to be certified to litigate. Those students could work in the emergency room to have someone on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. She said some of her students already stay on call past midnight. But she cannot require them to be on duty all night because the program has too few students to handle responsibilities in the clinic and be on duty in the hospital all day.
Meier said the grant also will be used to increase the amount of time Dutton is available to work in the clinic. Dutton currently works with the clinic one day a week, but Meier said the grant will enable her to work two days a week.
“Normally when you deal with an issue like this, you are dealing with it for yourself, but we have to be focused on the client and the extra support can only be helpful,” Ruttenberg said.
The grant also will be used to host a conference on the program’s interdisciplinary approach. Meier originally had planned to hold the conference in June, but because the grant came through later than she expected, she said it may be postponed until later in the year.