Receiving a PILP stipend allowed me to spend ten weeks working at Youth, Rights & Justice (YRJ) this past summer. YRJ is a not for profit law firm which is court appointed on dependency cases as well as juvenile criminal cases. YRJ has also developed a SchoolWorks program which allows its attorneys to advocate for current clients in their schools regarding their right to special education.
While at YRJ I was exposed to the ins and outs of juvenile law. I observed various court hearings, participated in staffing and strategy sessions, assisted in a program called detention alternatives which is aimed at determining housing options for detained youth, and researched and wrote legal memos. I researched diverse areas of the law effecting youth such as brain research the rehabilitative possibilities for juvenile sex offenders, exploring federal and state law on special education, and researched the legislative history of various aspects of the juvenile code.
Through the detention alternatives program I served as a representative of the program and visited new and returning detained youth before their preliminary hearings to discuss their convictions and to determine the youth’s preference for possible placements while their case proceeds in order to present this information to the attorney covering the preliminary hearing. This program allowed me to interact with clients and to sift through material to find the most important facts to present to the covering attorney.
Some of my favorite work over the summer was assisting in obtaining Special Immigration Juvenile Status (SIJS) for clients who were born in another country and came to the US, whose parents are unable to care for them. I assisted one of the attorney’s in the office in filing petitions on behalf of clients, which ask the juvenile court to find certain legal findings that allows for non-citizen youth to eventually obtain legal status. I visited clients in immigration detention facilities and interviewed youth about their experiences with their families in their native countries and helped draft their declarations with this information. Through working on these cases I interacted with clients and saw substantial changes being made in the lives of these youths. I followed the cases of a few clients all the way through the process by attending the initial interview with a client, filing the petition and declaration on their behalf, and attending all of the hearings up until a final hearing at the juvenile court where the judge found the necessary legal findings which allow the youth to eventually obtain legal immigration status.
This summer was an excellent opportunity to gain invaluable experience working in juvenile law as well as working in a not for profit law firm. I interacted with clients in difficult situations while working on SIJS cases and participating in the detention alternatives program, and was able to practice my research and writing skills. I was also given an inside look at the strategy and legal issues that come up in juvenile cases by attending staffing sessions.