Asked & Answered: The Family Law & Domestic Violence Clinic

Asked & Answered: The Family Law & Domestic Violence Clinic

Prof. Debra Pogrund Stark

Clinic Director


In honor of October being Domestic Violence Month, an interview of Professor Debra Stark, Founder and Director of the John Marshall Law School Family Law & Domestic Violence Clinic:


We have a domestic violence clinic?

Yes – from 2008-2015, we offered a domestic violence law and practicum course with a field placement clinic component. We also previously offered a family law advocacy for survivors of domestic violence course that was based on simulations. Starting in 2015, we began offering the “Family Law & Domestic Violence Clinic” course (JD-276-CL-1). This clinic course replaces the two prior courses, taking the best features from them, and adding a live, in-house clinic.

In 2016, our Family Law & Domestic Violence Clinic won the Illinois State Bar Association’s “Excellence in Legal Education” award.


What does the clinic do?

Due to the numerous forms of abuse (physical, emotional, and financial) that adult and child survivors of domestic violence experience, they need legal assistance across a broad swath of practice areas.

Consequently, we offer legal representation to survivors of domestic violence so they can exercise their rights in eight different practice areas:

Orders of Protection

Divorce/Parentage/Child Protection cases

Immigration relief

Debt relief/Credit repair

Federal and State Income Tax liability relief

Employment protections

Housing protections relating to the abuse

Crime Victim Compensation claims.

We also develop comparative law studies and empirical studies to propose best practices for responding to and preventing future domestic violence. We disseminate these best practices in our annual Domestic Violence Educational Conferences, in law review articles, and posting resources related to these best practices on our webpage.

Because there are far more adult and children survivors of domestic violence in need of free legal assistance than there are free legal service providers, another goal of our clinic is to create innovative online legal resources for them to use to navigate the legal system.

For example, we created a set of questions for the user to determine if they qualify for a particular form of tax liability relief. If they qualify, they are directed to the appropriate forms with bubble pop up tips helping them to fill out the form. If they do not qualify, they are directed to a set of FAQs to see what other forms of relief they might qualify for.

We also created a script for a film simulating a hearing for a plenary order of protection.


What would students do in this Clinic?

For those whose schedules permit them to appear in court and attend client meetings during the day, you can assist us in directly representing adult and child survivors of domestic violence.

We also offer client consultations on Wednesday nights for students who are not available to help the clinic  during the day. Students meet with the director at the time of enrollment (there is an enrollment form the students fill out) to determine which of the eight practice areas the student will be placed in. This depends on the number of credits the student is seeking and, in three of our practice areas, prior experience.

Students then work directly with one or more of our adjuncts and volunteer attorneys who are experts in one or more of the eight practice areas in representing these clients.

Students whose schedules make them unable to go to court or meet with clients can focus their work on special projects, and in-class training and simulations. These projects include providing research to create comparative law and empirical studies to determine best practices for responding to domestic violence and proposing law reforms based on these studies.

Students also work on creating innovative online resources for pro se survivors of domestic violence which requires many of the skills used in the direct representation work.


Is there a classroom component to the clinic course and if so, what does it look like?

Yes. We meet each Monday night during the semester. Students learn about our mission and how we operate. They also learn about the counterintuitive aspects of domestic violence and best practices for working with survivors of domestic violence.

Class sessions are then devoted to (i) discussing the online training materials we assign and post, (ii) performing simulations of contested hearings and routine court appearances, and (iii) learning from the perspective of guest speakers working in this area.

This includes persons who provide counseling/therapy to survivors of DV, work with offenders in partner abuse intervention program, train the police on DV, and prosecutors and criminal defense attorneys.


How do I find out more information on this clinic?

Email Professor Debra Pogrund Stark at

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