Message From the Dean

 In Family Law, Winter 2018-19

Here we are at the start of another new year filled with hope and excitement as the Center for Children, Families and the Law continues its mission to assist families in crisis who need and deserve more effective representation. In furtherance of the Center’s guiding philosophy, we continue to embrace, facilitate and effectuate positive change for these children and their parents by thinking outside the box and by embracing the cutting edge in all respects.

I believe that 2019 will be a year in which we will see more interdisciplinary programs for institutions of higher learning, with a focus on expanding our knowledge and understanding of new technology. At Hofstra Law and at the Center, we recognize the inherent value in both of these developments and have already made substantial changes to integrate them into our curriculum and programs. These innovations will help us to improve the treatment of families in the legal system while also teaching our students how to better and more effectively represent them in family law disputes.

There is no question that technology is changing how we transact business and how we live our lives. It is revolutionizing and changing the practice of law each and every day, and it is helping to greatly expand access to legal services for those who cannot afford it. By educating our students on the use of technology in the law, we are making tomorrow’s lawyers more efficient and better able to deliver quality legal services to their clients at a lesser cost.

As part of its initiative to provide opportunities for students to develop expertise in the area of legal technology, on October 6, 2018, Hofstra Law hosted its first one-day Legal Tech Boot Camp, a one-day educational and networking experience which featured speakers from the faculty, the bench and private practice. Its goal was to examine the increasing role of technology in the practice of law as well as to foster an understanding of the skills that students should develop in order to prepare for current and future legal practice. The topics covered included e-discovery and analytics, e-filing, e-billing, cybersecurity, e-research, and the use of artificial intelligence in improving legal services. Due to the boot camp’s success, as reported by the students in attendance, we will be offering it again this year, at which time we hope to open it up to the legal community, including law professionals.

The Law School also introduced a new 2-credit course this past semester entitled “Courtroom Technology and Advanced Advocacy,” which teaches students advanced trial techniques and the fundamentals of trial advocacy using new courtroom technology. While taking on the roles of attorneys, judges and jurors and conducting mock trials in our new high-tech “Courtroom of the Future,” students, using iPads provided by Hofstra and a special TrialPad app, are able to digitally access case files and store evidence, which they can then zoom in on and highlight on the screens above in order to make it easier to point out critical information to witnesses and to keep a jury engaged. The students appreciate that the tech skills they are mastering also help to make them more marketable in this very competitive job market.

Another reason that Hofstra Law has been named by the American Bar Association as a top 10 law school for teaching technology in practice is its innovative Law, Logic & Technology Research Laboratory (LLT Lab). The LLT Lab uses special software to create logic models, which help to develop searchable case files documenting the reasoning in how a judge or appellate court arrived at a particular decision. Its goal is not only to improve legal research and education, but also to impact society as a whole by producing databases of logic models in important social areas, such as employment, housing, education, immigration, disability and health care benefits.

With respect to interdisciplinary education, I would like to provide an update on the Family Law Practicum/Mediation Project, the joint endeavor of the Center and Hofstra University’s Psychology Department. This practicum trains law students and doctoral psychology students to provide mediation services to select parents (usually self-represented) who have minor children and are referred by the court system. The students receive intensive child-focused mediation training and then provide mediation services focusing on parenting issues, under appropriate professional supervision, in law student-graduate psychology student pairs in the Nassau County Supreme Court Matrimonial Center and in the Nassau County Family Court.  ­­­

I am delighted to report that the practicum, which was launched last semester, was a great success in several respects. It afforded the participating law and psychology students the unique and rewarding opportunity to conduct actual mediations with real, live clients in the courthouse. In doing so, they were able to learn the practical skills required to be mediators and at the same time help a diverse segment of the local community on a wide range of family-related issues by offering a low-cost, low-conflict means of resolving their family disputes.

As to the Guardianship Project, we are now in our third year of this interdisciplinary project with the Nassau County AHRC Foundation in which law students, under supervision, assist families in need in obtaining the appointment of a guardian for their child with a developmental disability or delay who has reached the age of 18. We are thankful that AHRC — which is a not-for-profit organization that empowers people with intellectual and other developmental disabilities to live self-directed lives — has once again agreed to collaborate with us and to assist with the funding for this very worthwhile program. Participating students, under professional supervision, draft petitions for guardianship and conduct hearings before the Surrogate’s Court of Nassau and Suffolk Counties thanks to the gracious participation of the Surrogate’s Court judges in both counties and their staffs. This year we are expanding the program and will also be assisting two families in the Baldwin school district with the appointment of guardians for their children. While gaining the benefits of this experiential-learning course, the participating students’ services resulted in the appointment of nine guardians for disabled or delayed young adults last spring.

Also thriving is the Center’s Guardianship Practice, formerly known as the Access to Justice Incubator. The Practice provides hands-on postgraduate experience for selected Hofstra Law graduates who serve as salaried fellows for one-year terms and who provide local families in need with low bono and pro bono civil legal services that are often not addressed by existing not-for-profit and public service agencies. Since its inception five years ago, it has handled a total of 254 cases. This past academic year alone, the Practice opened eight SCPA 17-A guardianship cases for petitioner; 17 MHL Article 81 guardianship cases as court-assigned Court Evaluator; and 16 MHL Article 81 guardianship cases as court-assigned Alleged Incapacitated Person. During the same time period, the Practice concluded 10 SCPA 17-A guardianship cases; 29 MHL Article 81 guardianship cases as court-assigned Court Evaluator; and 19 MHL Article 81 guardianship cases as court-assigned Alleged Incapacitated Person. The Practice, while providing a supervised and collaborative environment for young attorneys to cultivate their legal talent and to develop their legal skills, also assists members of our community in need in overcoming often formidable circumstances.

Another exciting development is that the Child and Family Advocacy Fellowship Program has recently merged with the Center. This fellowship has produced numerous highly successful alumni who now serve in the public service arena, some of whom have been profiled in this digital magazine as a result of their admirable work in helping children and families in crisis across the country. The almost 60 fellows who have graduated from this fellowship program now work in such noble professions as child advocates, court attorneys, family and education lawyers, assistant district attorneys, and public defenders, and one, as profiled in this issue, has even founded a charter school in one of Houston’s most economically challenged areas.

In other Center news, we were thrilled to have our esteemed Sidney and Walter Siben Distinguished Professor of Family Law and founding director of the Center back in our fold this past semester following a well-deserved sabbatical. He is our guiding light and is involved in every aspect of the Center and all of its good works.

We would also like to extend a hearty welcome to Professor Emily J. Stolzenberg, who has joined Hofstra Law this semester as a Visiting Assistant Professor of Law and as the Center’s first law research fellow. As is further detailed in the profile article in this issue, she is an accomplished scholar and published author with a deep interest in family law. A graduate of Princeton University and Yale Law School, with a M.Phil. in Political Theory from the University of Oxford, Worcester College, Professor Stolzenberg is co-teaching the Family Law Policy Seminar with Professor Schepard this semester, and in the upcoming fall semester, she will be teaching the Family Court Review Seminar, in which 2Ls on the Family Court Review staff develop topics for, do research on, and write and revise their student Notes. We are very excited about Professor Stolzenberg joining us, and we look forward to a long and productive association with her.

Lastly, Hofstra Law will be hosting two exciting major events in the coming months. The first is the annual Sidney and Walter Siben Distinguished Lecture in Family Law, which is co-sponsored by the Center and will take place at the Law School on Friday March 29. This year, this all-day conference entitled “Plain and Simple: Making the Legal System Accessible to All,” will focus on the all-important and necessary law reform issue of moving the legal system forward with respect to implementing plain language and simplification, understandable to most individuals, in our statutes, forms and court processes. It is our hope that this conference, which will feature lectures by several plain language experts as well as small working group sessions with these professionals and attendees, will be the first of many steps designed to address the implementation of plain language in the legal system in New York State. The conference will get off to an auspicious start with the keynote speech to be given by the Honorable Jonathan Lippman, former Chief Judge of New York State, who is most certain to set the right tone for the day.

The second major event will be our third annual Outstanding Women in Law Awards and Dinner Reception to be held on April 22 at the RXR Plaza Atrium in Uniondale, New York. This elegant event celebrates select women who have made meaningful and inspiring contributions to the legal community. It is with great joy that this year we welcome the esteemed Judge Judy Scheindlin as our Lifetime Achievement Honoree and Guest. Further details can be found at the Outstanding Women in Law website at https://law.hofstra.edu/owl/.

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Professor Andrew Schepard speaking with students