New York, July 1, 2010--Roberto Concepción, Jr. ’09 and Laird Nelson ’09, who worked in Columbia Law School’s Child Advocacy Clinic, had their article, “Dual Representation in the Family Law Context: A Case Study (of Parenthood),” published in the July edition of Child Law Practice.
This is the second article published in the journal this year by a former clinic member. In February, Jean Clemente ’09 had her article, “Protecting and Defending a Young Person in Foster Care from Financial Identity Theft,” featured in the February edition of the American Bar Association publication.
The article by Concepción and Nelson investigates the ethical and practical issues facing family law advocates representing more than one family member.
Concepción, Jr., a Child Advocacy Fellow at the Law School, and Nelson, an associate at Jones Day, wrote a case study about how the clinic represented Vivian Gonzalez, a single Latina mother with two children “recently aged out of the foster care system.”
Gonzalez (the names of all parties were changed by the authors to protect privacy) came to the Child Advocacy Clinic seeking help terminating a child support order against Jason Oslo, the father of her second child, who had been late in making support payments. Gonzalez had assigned rights to the New York State Department of Social Services to collect payments on her behalf.
After the pair had reconciled and moved in together, Gonzalez sought to end the child support order, a request that was granted by a family court. However, Oslo was still responsible for the arrears that had accumulated, which left him less money to support his family. Oslo then sought to have the clinic represent him to have the order vacated or modified.
Despite the potential danger of a conflict of interest because of prohibitions against lawyers representing multiple clients with different interests, the authors write the clinic determined its actions were permitted under the New York Lawyer’s Code of Professional Responsibility.
“We determined that Vivian and Jason’s interests were not adverse,” Concepción, Jr. and Nelson write. “Vivian and Jason had reconciled and were jointly devoting their incomes to supporting their child. Forcing Jason to pay the state of New York the accumulated arrears was diverting resources away from their family.”
However, a serious domestic dispute between Oslo and Gonzalez suggested the possibility that a conflict would arise between the two during the legal process, ending their shared interest and potentially forcing the clinic to withdraw from representing not just Oslo but Gonzalez as well. Concepción Jr. and Nelson point to this possibility as evidence for their conclusion that “the ‘should’ component of the ethical analysis was as important as the ‘could.’”
Ultimately, the clinic decided to represent only Vivian. “Life can intervene in unexpected ways, and a later conflict between the two parties could have a harsh result: withdrawal of representation,” the authors wrote.
The Child Advocacy Clinic, which is headed by Jane Spinak, the Edward Ross Aranow Clinical Professor of Law, specializes in representing adolescents aging out of foster care or other institutional settings. The clinic’s Adolescent Representation Program, launched in 2006, affords students the opportunity to assist individual clients and affect evolving policies and practices in the field, which has enjoyed increased attention in recent years.
In the article, Clemente gives a detailed description of “how advocates can help young people in foster care protect themselves from identity theft, recognize when identity theft has occurred, and defend a client who is a victim of identity theft.”
The author’s work is part of a growing movement to address child identity theft, particularly with foster children. The Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008 mandates children have a “transition plan” to adulthood as they leave the foster care system. Clemente strongly suggests paying close attention to the young person’s credit score and the possibility of identity theft as part of such a plan.
(Written by Zachary Glubiak)
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