When Judge Grace G. Dickler, presiding judge of the Circuit Court of Cook County’s Domestic Violence Division, decided to offer domestic violence victims assistance in filing civil orders of protection, she turned to DePaul College of Law for help. The result was an influx of 96 law students willing to staff a new pro bono program at the Domestic Violence Courthouse beginning in January 2011.
Given the tremendous response, Judge Dickler was “overwhelmed by the spirit of public service at DePaul College of Law.”
Jody Raphael, senior research fellow at the Schiller DuCanto & Fleck Family Law Center, spearheaded the project on behalf of DePaul. “Given the difficulty petitioners have in filling out the complicated forms to obtain a civil order of protection, the need for this project is great,” she says. “Thanks to Judge Dickler’s vision and a joint effort of the Family Law Center and the Center for Public Interest Law, we are able to help victims receive the assistance and support they need in court to keep themselves and their children free of abuse.”
Law student volunteers spend about three hours each week at the courthouse. They interview petitioners, assist with the required paperwork, prepare written affidavits, and accompany petitioners to the courtroom—all in an effort to support victims and help them obtain emergency orders of protection. Petitioners return to court 21 days later, at which time, the person served with the order is given the opportunity to respond. By mid-April, law students assisted 434 petitioners at the courthouse.
DePaul students are proud of their volunteer efforts, knowing this work makes a difference for abused individuals. “I love meeting with all the clients and helping with their petitions,” says third-year student Rochelle Turrisi, who is one of 28 students that volunteered through Professor Deborah Tuerkheimer’s domestic violence course. “Watching their moods change from being overwhelmed or upset at the beginning of a session to feeling accomplished and safe after getting an emergency order of protection is a great feeling.” She continues to work with the program this summer.
At the same time, law students gain valuable practical skills by interviewing clients and formulating relevant information from interviews to help petitioners obtain protection orders. “I thought this project was an amazing opportunity to develop skills outside of the classroom. It helped to give meaning to my week when I was buried in my textbooks,” says Jeremy Chavez, a third-year student who volunteered for the spring and summer. “This hands-on opportunity is an invaluable opportunity for me to reaffirm my passion for helping others.”
The program required numerous volunteers to be successful, but scheduling and supervising almost 100 law students presented considerable challenges. With support from the College of Law, the DePaul Vincentian Endowment Fund, and the Field Foundation of Illinois, alumna Jennifer Ansay (JD ’10) was hired part time to schedule students and provide on-site supervision.
In addition to law students, attorneys from 10 major law firms as well as nine DePaul alumni volunteered their services and, subsequently, took on more complex cases. Alumni volunteers included Barbara Helfand (JD ’80), Ryan Helgeson (JD ’10), Julia Kim (JD ’10), Marissa LaVette (JD ’10), Raoul Mowatt (JD ’10), Michael Murphy (JD ’10), Jessica Davis Triebe (JD ’10), Karen Boyd Williams (JD ’10) and Maureen Yamashiro (JD ’85). More than 50 students volunteered—nine on a full-time basis—for the program this summer. The College of Law will continue the program in academic year 2011-2012.
Law alumni interested in volunteering may contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo: Students Jeremy Chavez (left) and Rochelle Turrisi (right) work on a case with Court Administrator Leslie Landis at the Cook County Domestic Violence Courthouse.
Article originally appeared in Dialogue magazine, summer 2011.