Top Schools for Family Law

Family law is one of the most important legal specialties because of who can be in the crosshairs: children. It focuses on so many of society’s chilling realities, from domestic violence to homelessness to family abandonment.

Many schools devote considerable resources to this area of law. Here are some new developments at the nation’s top law schools:

  • New York Law School launched a full-year clinic this fall — the Juvenile Rights Law Clinic. It is in partnership with the Legal Aid Society’s Juvenile Rights Practice and will allow students to help represent children in Manhattan Family Court proceedings in which parents or guardians are charged with abuse and neglect. Students can also represent children in custody, immigration, juvenile justice and school suspension matters and work on policy and legislative reform. In addition, New York Law School will take over publishing of the ABA Family Law Section’s “The Family Law Quarterly.”
  • Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law’s VanSickle Family Law Clinic has partnered with the International Rescue Committee in Dallas to work on unaccompanied minor cases in family court. Students represent detained unaccompanied minors living in foster care and children released to sponsors in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. In addition, a grant from the Dallas Bar Foundation allows students to create self-help videos.
  • Robert Latham, associate director of the Children & Youth Law Clinic at University of Miami School of Law, has built an interactive website that maps the placement of every child who has passed through Florida’s Department of Children and Families since 2002. He recently completed an assessment of the impact of COVID-19 on Florida’s foster care system.
  • Seattle University School of Law launched a pop-up clinic to address the increased need for domestic violence protection orders during the pandemic. Student volunteers were on call to help victims fill out forms to obtain protection orders. Research has shown a large increase in abuse-related calls to police since the pandemic began.
  • Loyola University Chicago School of Law celebrated its 25th year of advocating for children and families through its Civitas ChildLaw Center, the largest child and family law program in the nation. The center’s Education Law and Policy Institute has added two staff members, and the Center for the Human Rights of Children has hired Sarah Diaz as its new associate director. The program continues to focus on issues of family separation at the U.S.-Mexico border.
  • Drake University Law School’s Student Bar Association, led by President Kerrigan Owens, established a pop-up clinic for young mothers at the Young Women’s Resource Center in Des Moines, Iowa. The nonprofit organization supports, educates and advocates for girls and young women ages 10 to 21 in the Des Moines community. The clinic, staffed entirely by Drake Law students, performed intake services involving issues such as custody and domestic violence and then forwarded the cases to the Polk County Bar Association Volunteer Lawyers Project.
  • Southwestern Law School has teamed with the Harriett Buhai Center for Family Law to offer law students a family clinic program. It is the only clinical education program in Los Angeles dedicated to family law and includes topics such as stopping domestic violence and enhancing the welfare of children. Under the supervision of a staff attorney from the Buhai Center, students offer legal advice to clients in a variety of family law matters, including domestic violence, division of property, visitation, custody, parentage and child support.
  • DePaul University College of Law recently opened a family law field clinic. This year-long clinical course offers a survey of the laws surrounding marriage, divorce, invalidity of marriage, legal separation, parentage and adoption. Students will represent real clients at Chicago Volunteer Legal Services. After appropriate training, students will interview and counsel clients, develop case plans, investigate witnesses and facts, prepare letters and legal documents, negotiate and otherwise help clients solve family law disputes.
  • Washburn University School of Law’s Children and Family Law Center allows students to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity, working side-by-side with Habitat staff to build homes and neighborhoods.
  • University of Missouri - Kansas City School of Law is one of the only law schools in the country to offer an emphasis on family law in both the J.D. and LL.M. programs. It also has two family law clinics, a study abroad program focused on family law, and a family law journal.

Editor’s note: Every year, prelaw magazine looks at the top schools around the nation. For 2020, we determine the top law schools in Human Rights Law, Family Law and Health Law. This is the second of a three-part series.


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