Jane Spinak

Jane M. Spinak

  • Edward Ross Aranow Clinical Professor Emerita of Law

J.D., New York University School of Law, 1979
B.A., Smith College, 1974

Areas of Specialty

Child Welfare Policy
Juvenile Justice
Child Advocacy
Family Court Reform
Clinical Legal Education
Professional Responsibility

A renowned advocate for children’s welfare and juvenile justice, Jane M. Spinak co-founded Columbia Law School’s clinics focused on representing families and children. Spinak most recently directed the Adolescent Representation Clinic, which represented teenagers and young adults aging out of foster care. From 2001 to 2006, Spinak served as the Law School’s director of clinical education. 

Spinak specializes in juvenile justice, child advocacy, and family court reform—teaching, writing, lecturing, and mentoring students interested in public service. Her current scholarship focuses on the history and effectiveness of the Family Court. She has written books and articles for child advocates, lawyers, and judges; has served on numerous committees and task forces addressing the needs and rights of children and families; and has trained and lectured widely on those issues to lawyers, social workers, and mental health professionals. Spinak also teaches professional responsibility and the Pro Bono Scholars externship program. 

Before joining the Columbia Law faculty in 1982, Spinak worked as a staff attorney at the Juvenile Rights Division of The Legal Aid Society of New York City. From 1995 to 1998, while on leave from Columbia, Spinak served as attorney-in-charge of the Juvenile Rights Division.

Spinak is a member of the New York State Permanent Judicial Commission on Justice for Children and serves on the Mayor’s Advisory Committee on the Judiciary. From 2008 to 2011, she co-chaired the Task Force on Family Court in New York City created by the New York County Lawyers Association. She is an adviser on the ALI’s Restatement of the Law, Children and the Law. 

She was the founding board chair of the Center for Family Representation, an advocacy and policy organization dedicated to ensuring the rights of parents in child-welfare proceedings, and continues to serve on the center’s board.


Honors and Awards

Kathryn A. McDonald Award for Excellence in Service to Family Court


Howard A. Levine Award for Excellence in Juvenile Justice and Child Welfare


Human Rights Hero, American Bar Association’s Section on Individual Rights and Responsibilities


New York County Lawyer’s Association Honoree “for dedication to safeguarding the rights of indigent litigants”

May 2003

PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award, produced by the Institute for Child and Family Policy of Columbia University and the Fred Friendly Seminars


Honoree, Fourth Anniversary Celebration of LIFT (Legal Information for Families Today)

April 2000

Remarks and Testimony

  • When Great Ideas Fail: Family Court and the Dangers of Doing Good,” University of Florida Walter O. Weyrauch Distinguished Lecture in Family Law, November 2021
  • “Taking Kids: Border Madness,” Columbia University School of Social Work Teach-in Conference on Immigration, October 2018
  • “How the Child Protection System Contributes to Poverty and Child Neglect,” 2018 Annual Meeting on Law and Society, June 2018
  • “Client-Clinic Collaborations: How to Incorporate Meaningful Partnerships with Your Clients into Representation, Reform, and Response,” 2018 Annual Conference on Clinical Legal Education, May 2018

Related News and Stories