This fall, two new Suffolk Law professors will offer two new full-year clinical programs, both of which provide students with important experiential learning on current issues.
Assistant Clinical Professor Erik Pitchal is teaching a Child Advocacy Clinic that focuses on children in foster care who have just turned 18 and are legally required to leave their foster homes; there are more than 700 such cases in Massachusetts every year. "These children still have enormous needs," says Pitchal.
Students in the clinic pick up the cases of those who have recently aged out of the foster care program and assist them in negotiating with the Department of Social Services; applying for Social Security Insurance, Medicaid, and housing assistance; and identifying other government programs for which they might be eligible. Students also help clients find and enroll in appropriate educational, vocational, or job training programs.
"The students are very committed," says Pitchal. "They learn very quickly how important the work they're doing is."
The other new clinic also deals with child advocacy, but in a very different arena. Assistant Clinical Professor Ragini Shah leads an Immigration Clinic focusing on unaccompanied minors-young children who come to the United States without their parents. "In talking to immigration judges and nonprofit attorneys who represent minors, I found there was a real lack of organized knowledge," says Shah. "There are many protective laws applied to children that are not applied to adults."
Students represent undocumented immigrant children before immigration courts and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agency. In cases where children have sought relief on their own, students may also take on a deportation defense before an immigration court. Other cases concern applications for immigration benefits, such as Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, victims of crime visas (U visas), or trafficking visas (T visas), as well as political asylum matters.
"It's an important field to cover at the law school," says Shah. "Immigration is a big topic in the world, and it's beneficial for students to have the space to engage." From their inception, both clinics drew "overwhelming interest," according to Pitchal, with more than twice as many applicants as available positions. "Students come to law school because they want to practice law and help people. Often, these clinics are their first opportunity to do it in a hands-on way," says Pitchal. "They thrive on being the lead attorneys."
ALUMNI PROFILESLance D. Clarke