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Three of New York City’s top law schools are joining forces this semester to help lawyers representing parents in Family Court. Columbia University School of Law, New York University School of Law, and Fordham University School of Law have signed on to help develop the Center for Family Representation (CFR), an independent resource center for attorneys counseling parents and adult guardians charged as respondents throughout the five boroughs. The three schools each began a workshop this semester in which law students and graduate students in social work will help build the resources necessary to run the center. Columbia Law Professor Jane Spinak, along with Professors Beth Schwartz and Leah Hill of Fordham Law, and Madeleine Kurtz of NYU, are members of the center’s newly created board of directors and will run their respective clinics along with professors in social work from each school. Family law attorney Susan L. Jacobs of Manhattan is CFR’s full-time executive director. The center, which has received a grant from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, is designed to resolve what its founders see as an imbalance in the child welfare system. While children involved in family law cases are represented by the juvenile rights division of the Legal Aid Society, and have advocacy groups such as Manhattan’s Lawyers for Children to turn to, parents generally rely on solo practitioners or small firms that often do not have access to the same resources as children’s rights attorneys. “CFR really grew out of a lot of people within the Family Court community recognizing that the system for representing parents in Family Court was really broken,” said Spinak. “Without parents having adequate representation, the child welfare system and the Family Court is not going to work very well.” INITIAL STAGES Still in its initial stages, CFR’s primary agenda is to support attorneys representing parents. Eventually, the center plans to employ its own staff of lawyers who could train assigned counsel and Legal Services attorneys. “We would be able to provide assistance to attorneys with writs, interim orders or appeals,” said Jacobs. “There simply aren’t enough attorneys who are able to do that.” Students at each school will attend seminars on the issues surrounding parents in the child welfare system. They will then undertake projects such as disseminating information, developing an agenda for the center, lobbying and creating a structure for the direct representation of clients. One of the areas students will explore, said Schwartz, is the instructions Family Court judges citywide use to inform parties of their right to counsel. She said they hope to propose a standard. “One of the goals is to equalize things between courthouses. Our sense is that there is not any great uniformity and the primary goal is to establish some fairness,” she said. Each school has its own arrangement for workshops. Columbia has started the Center for Family Representation Workshop, a year-long, four-credit clinic that will dedicate its entire courseload to projects designed to develop CFR. NYU will incorporate its contribution to CFR into its Institute for Families, Children and the Law clinic, which deals with child welfare and foster care issues in general. Fordham is also consolidating its work for CFR into its child and family litigation clinic. The schools will hold at least five joint seminars and will share the same reading materials. Ultimately, the goal is for the students to work together on their projects. “All of our students are … studying child welfare and foster care and devoting themselves to serving parents and relatives who have children in foster care,” said Kurtz. The new center, she added, is an opportunity to bring students into a “real-life event.”

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