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A Career in Children’s Law

Considering a career in children’s law? If you are thinking about law school, if you are in law school, or even if you are a practicing lawyer considering a career change to children’s law, there are several resources for you as you consider what it means to be a children’s lawyer.

Children’s law is an incredibly broad field encompassing juvenile justice (delinquency), child welfare (dependency), family law custody cases, education (including expulsion and special education), immigration, benefits (e.g., Supplemental Security Income [SSI] and Medicaid), health care (both physical and mental health), housing, and more. The issues involved in the representation of children are complex and challenging. Lawyers need to be familiar with federal and state constitutional issues, federal and state laws, administrative laws, ethical standards, children’s developmental issues, and more. Despite the challenges, there are few areas of the law that are more rewarding.

Where Do Children’s Lawyers Work?

Children’s lawyers might work for nonprofit children’s law centers, bar organizations, law schools, public defender agencies, social service organizations, or they may be in private practice taking individual children’s law cases from the courts. To see the wide variety of organizations that employ children’s lawyers—and get a better idea of what children’s lawyers do, visit the Directory of Pro Bono Children’s Law Programs.

A list of resources documenting the ABA standards that govern the practice of children is also available online.

If You Have Not Yet Gone to Law School

The Directory of Pro Bono Children’s Law Programs has a section focused on children’s legal clinics. You may be interested in choosing a law school based on their children’s law clinic and class offerings. You may want to consider whether a law school has a loan deferment/forgiveness program for graduates that enter public interest law.

If you are interested in getting some court room experience and learning more about children’s law prior to entering law school, you may want to volunteer for a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) program, which gives non-lawyers the opportunity to advocate for court-involved children.

How Do I Learn More?

The ABA provides a webpage for lawyers interested in a career in children’s law. This resource provides examples of paths to careers in children’s law, information to consider when choosing a law school, and what you can do while in law school to make yourself a stronger candidate for a child advocacy job.

There are several landmark children’s law cases to review.

If you are interested in children’s law, listed below are many books that you might want to read.

  • No Matter How Loud I Shout: A Year in the Life of Juvenile Court
    (1996) Edward Humes
  • A Child Called "It": One Child's Courage to Survive
    (1995) Dave Pelzer
  • The Lost Boy: A Foster Child's Search for the Love of a Family
    (1997) Dave Pelzer
  • Orphans of the Living: Stories of America's Children in Foster Care
    (1997) Jennifer Toth
  • A Kind and Just Parent
    (1998) William Ayers
  • Somebody Else's Children: The Courts, The Kids, and The Struggle to Save America's Troubled Families
    (1998) John Huber & Jill Wolfson
  • The Lost Children of Wilder: The Epic Struggle to Change Foster Care
    (2001) Nina Bernstein
  • Kids Law: A Practical Guide to Juvenile Justice
    (2003) John Biggers
  • Shattered Bonds: The Color of Child Welfare
    (2002) Dorothy Roberts
  • Childhood: It Should Not Hurt
    (2003) Claire R. Reeves
  • A History of Child Protection in America
    (2004) John E.B. Myers
  • The Heart Knows Something Different: Teenage Voices from the Foster Care System: Youth Communication
    (1996) Al Desetta
  • On Their Own: What Happens to Kids when They Age out of the Foster Care System
    (2006) Martha Shirk & Gary Stangler
  • Wasted: The Plight of America's Unwanted Children
    (1997) Patrick T. Murphy
  • Turning Stones: My Days and Nights with Children at Risk: A Caseworker's Story
    (1998) Mark Parent
  • Zero Tolerance
    (2001) Edited by William Ayers, Bernardine Dohrn and Rick Ayers

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