Penn Law’s CASAC assists low-income clients with child custody, support issues
In this video feature Custody and Support Assistance Clinic (CASAC) students Brian Wilmont L’14, Margaret Zhang L’15, and Katharine Schulman L’15 discuss their legal advocacy on behalf of low-income Philadelphians with child custody, child support, and domestic violence legal issues.
CASAC is an independent, incorporated entity which is administered and staffed by Penn Law students, with guidance from the School’s Toll Public Interest Center (TPIC), which supports more than twenty student-run pro bono projects. Supervised by attorneys at Philadelphia Legal Assistance (PLA), CASAC provides volunteer advocates with a unique opportunity to gain hands-on experience working one-on-one with clients to prepare legal documents, provide advice for court appearances, and navigate the Philadelphia court system. In addition, advocates also have the opportunity to represent clients in Family Court in their second or third years.
Brian Wilmont L’14: The Custody and Support Assistance Clinic is a student-founded and run organization that assists low-income Philadelphians with their custody, child support, and protection from abuse needs. We work closely with Philadelphia Legal Assistance, which is a local legal aid organization in town, which provides us space and in addition provides us supervision from a practicing attorney in family law. And then we work very closely with the Penn Law community, as all of our advocates are Penn Law students.
Margaret Zhang L’15: Some differences between the CASAC experience and the classroom experience include the hands-on and practical nature of the work that you do. In the classroom, most of our work is focused on the law, not much as on the facts of the case, those have already been developed. However, during CASAC, as advocates really you are discovering the facts during each intake and during phone contact with the client as the case goes on. Developing those facts and helping them learn how to present them best before a judge or master in a custody support or protection from abuse hearing, and additionally, for some clients we will be drafting documents, so helping them prepare pleadings for them to file in court.
Katharine Schulman L’15: This will be my second year with CASAC and I chose to stay on and even apply [to] become a board member and a shift manager because CASAC was my saving grace last year. I worked for a number of years before coming to law school and I did not expect the transition to be so difficult for me back to school, but it really was. CASAC was the one time a week where I didn’t have to think about textbooks, I didn’t have to worry about being cold-called [in class].
I went down to the PLA office, the Philadelphia Legal Assistance office, and I was working one on one with real clients who had real issues that I could actually help them with. I walked out of every CASAC shift, as difficult as some of the issues may have been, feeling like I had done something to help someone else, and I had made a real difference. That’s what kept me going throughout my 1L year.
Brian Wilmont L’14: I have stayed with the program all three years of my time at Penn Law because I just found it was not only helpful to me as developing as a young attorney, but I felt it was a great opportunity to actually serve the local community. I came to law school hoping to really give back, to add something to society, so to speak, and this provided great opportunity to do that. You’re working with so many people over the course of a year and you get to see them progress though this process on issues that are really personal to them. You know, these are issues on access to their children or being able to put food on the table. These are really important things in their lives and you get to help them manage that, and you work in a system where ofter they are left to their own, not understanding how to navigate the courtroom. And you can help them do that. So, I think it has been a really valuable opportunity.
Transcript edited for length.