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New partnership enhances learning opportunities for law students on cases involving children and families 

By The Honorable John W. Parker

Troubling circumstances bring children and families into court every week. Tough divorces can require court intervention to resolve parenting disputes. Juveniles charged with breaking the law become part of the youth court system. Children who have suffered alleged physical and emotional abuse might be removed from the home with cases pending on the youth in need of care docket. All of these cases can be frightening and traumatic for the people whose lives are affected. Not every lawyer has the training and expertise needed to handle these matters.

A new lawyer fresh out of law school might be called into action in one of these cases when he or she least expects it. An ongoing business client might want their longtime law firm to handle a family law matter. A civil litigation firm might ask a young associate to depose a child crime victim. A judge might call and ask a new lawyer to take on a pro bono case to help a family in need. The point is these painful life circumstances require many lawyers to be ready to step up, no matter what kinds of cases they handle. 

I’m pleased to announce that a new partnership between our law school and a nationwide judicial organization will expand opportunities for law students to acquire these critical skills. The Alexander Blewett III School of Law and the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ) launched this partnership in October of this year with a series of kickoff events in Missoula. Over 70 students had the chance to ask judges questions and engage in conversations in a panel discussion, in three different class sessions, and in individual conversations in the hall outside the classroom.

The NCJFCJ, the nation’s oldest and largest judicial membership and education organization, is dedicated to improving the lives of families and children within the justice system through judicial education, research, and training. With a history dating back to 1937, the organization has been a driving force in advancing the field of juvenile and family law.  This partnership is only the second of its kind in the United States. The first NCJFCJ law school partnership was formed with Georgetown University Law School.  

This partnership supports and fortifies top-notch course content at the school in juvenile justice, family law, criminal law, and more, together with cutting-edge clinical programs where students serve clients under the supervision of experienced practicing attorneys.  Through this partnership, judges from Montana and other states can serve as guest lecturers and speakers on subjects concerning children and families. Another key benefit of this collaboration is the access it provides to the NCJFCJ’s vast educational resources. Students and faculty at the Alexander Blewett III School of Law will now be able to tap into a wealth of research, publications, and training materials. By the same token, the talented faculty from the law school will have opportunities to share their expertise by presenting at NCJFCJ annual conferences on juvenile justice, family law, domestic violence prevention and more.

I had the chance to speak with many of the students who signed up to join the NCJFCJ during the kickoff. The number of students who seek careers handling these cases as counsel for parents, counsel for children, family law attorneys, prosecutors, and defense attorneys was truly inspiring.  

As I mentioned earlier, these cases are critically important for the children and families whose legal rights are on the line. The training I have received through the NCJFCJ has helped me make better decisions to improve outcomes on tough cases that affect the quality of people’s daily lives.

I am hopeful that the benefits of this partnership will pay off immediately for these people when some of the law students I met in October graduate next year and start work in the fall as licensed attorneys.  Beyond that, I hope this partnership will endure for many years to come.  

Judge John W. Parker of Great Falls serves in the Eighth Judicial District. Judge Parker is a Board Director for NCJFCJ and is Vice President of the Montana Judges Association.