Bar News - March 9, 2007
Control Caseloads So Child Clients May Receive Competent Lawyering
By: Howard Davidson
Editorís Note: This is an excerpt from a white paper written by the author on how heavy lawyer caseloads negatively impact child advocacy cases. Davidsonís paper includes recommendations for how childrenís lawyers can organize and advocate for reduced caseloads. The complete text can be found at http://ssrn.com/abstract=943059.
The last decade has seen a remarkable growth in the specialized field of child advocacy. The National Association of Counsel for Children (NACC) and the American Bar Association (ABA) have both recognized that controlling the caseloads of these dedicated lawyers is critical to ensure high quality representation of vulnerable children and to avoid professional burnout. Anecdotally, lawyers around the country frequently complain about burdensome caseloads, but there has not been significant systematic study of this issue.
The NACC and the ABA Center on Children and the Law collaborated with the Fordham Interdisciplinary Center for Family and Child Advocacy in the design and execution of a caseload study. The study surveyed over 200 lawyers from across the country. In most of their cases, their child clients are placed in foster care.
Having an independent lawyer who can represent children in family court and protect their rights is essential to ensuring their safety, permanency, and well-being. The study found that more than 40 percent of all respondents have more than 100 cases and almost 20 percent of all respondents have over 200 cases. Among child-law specialists, over 70 percent have more than 100 cases and 20 percent have more than 300 cases.
Not only do lawyers have too many cases, but they also do not have adequate support in their offices to handle their work. Only one-third of childrenís lawyers are supported by trained social workers to help them advocate for their clients; less than one half of childrenís lawyers have use of investigators to assist them in their cases; and only one-third of childrenís lawyers have paralegals on their staff.
Howard Davidson is director of the American Bar Associationís Center on Children and the Law. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.