Family Defense Clinic

Course Description

All families have the right to family integrity – parents’ rights to the care, custody, and control of their children, and children’s rights to live with their families and not in state custody. The state threatens this right when it investigates a family for alleged neglect or abuse, or seeks to separate a family and place children in state custody, or subject a family to jurisdiction of the family court. The families who face such threats are overwhelmingly poor and disproportionately Black and Brown.

In the Family Defense Clinic, student attorneys defend families against intervention by the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) and the family courts by representing parents and other caregivers accused of neglecting or abusing their children. Student attorneys defend against those allegations, and advocate for supports and services to help parents reunify, for families to remain intact whenever possible, for prompt reunification when ACS or the court separate families, for the state to remove parents from the State Central Registry (so parents can obtain certain employment).

Student attorneys engage in vigorous advocacy on behalf of their clients in Family Court and administrative hearings, focusing on the power hierarchies involved in these cases and the role of this legal system in individual families and communities. The clinic seminar focuses on skills and substantive law necessary for case representation. Student attorneys also explore the role of lawyers, the function of this legal system, and different directions change efforts may take, including exploration of a dynamic field with multiple voices for change.

Instructor: Josh Gupta-Kagan, Clinical Professor of Law
Experiential Credits: 7 credits (3 for seminar; 4 for fieldwork)
Offered in: Fall 2024 and Spring 2025

Students in the clinic can expect to focus on:

  • Interviewing, factual investigation, and building client narratives
  • Client counseling
  • Advocacy in and out of court, verbally and in writing
  • Analyzing a complex body of state and federal statutory, regulatory, and case law
  • Analyzing state regulation of families and alternatives to the present legal system
  • Collaborating with lawyer and non-lawyer partners
  • Negotiating on behalf of clients
  • Exploring recent child neglect and abuse law reforms
  • Reflect and think expansively on the role of lawyers for parents in child neglect and abuse cases and others in the legal system

The Seminar

The clinic seminar will introduce student attorneys to the key substantive law and lawyering skills necessary for fieldwork. Student attorneys will analyze client matters and case strategies. The seminar will also provide opportunities to think critically about the structure, operation, and effectiveness of the legal system, the role of attorneys for parents and other parties within that system, and different directions change efforts may take.


Student attorneys represent individuals facing allegations of abuse or neglect in New York City Family Courts and administrative proceedings. Student attorneys work with clients, clients’ families, service providers, and professionals from a range of disciplines. Casework may include interviewing and counseling clients, investigating cases, preparing court pleadings, negotiating with opposing counsel, advocating in court or administrative hearings (in evidentiary or other types of hearings). Casework requires collaboration between student attorney case partners and with partner legal services organizations.

Student attorneys will also engage in one or more systemic advocacy projects supporting efforts to remedy repeated problems in the child neglect and abuse legal system in New York City, New York State, or elsewhere.

Student attorneys have weekly supervision meetings with the professor in which they propose their plans for their cases, discuss and reflect upon their work, and the actions of others in the legal system in their cases.

Important Information

The course is open to 8 students. Both J.D. and L.L.M. students are eligible. There are no pre- requisites to taking this course, other than a commitment to provide parents with the best possible representation. Clinic students will have a mandatory all-day orientation (held jointly with other clinics) on Friday, January 12, 2024. Interested students are encouraged to contact Prof. Josh Gupta-Kagan ([email protected], JGH 825) to discuss the Clinic further.