By Daniela Manrique
I represented my first client in the Family Law Advocacy Clinic in a contempt action against her ex-husband for failure to pay child support. I appeared in Probate and Family Court on behalf of Cheryl—not her real name—asking the judge to hold her ex-husband in civil contempt and direct him to begin to comply with court-ordered separation agreement.
I was assigned this case in my third year of law school and first week in the clinic. I only had a few weeks to prepare. I met Cheryl for the first time, familiarized myself with her case, interviewed her about the facts and explained the legal background of the contempt issue.
My client had been an ongoing client of the clinic before I joined the clinic, so she was not worried that I was a student attorney. After meeting with me just a few times, she told me she found me to be a trustworthy and reliable attorney. I was truly honored.
Although I had been involved in a national moot court competition the previous year, the thought of arguing before a real judge who had the power to make a binding judgment made me incredibly nervous. But as soon as I faxed over the Attorney of Record paperwork to the courthouse I felt a newfound sense of accountability as an attorney rather than a law student. It helped that I over-prepared for the hearing just to be sure. That, combined with my client’s trust in me as her attorney and in my legal work gave me a sense of confidence and composure before the court.
As unpredictable as litigation is, Cheryl’s ex-husband did not show up to the hearing. I was able to shift my oral argument with the help and advice of my supervisor (a clinical faculty member who is licensed in Massachusetts). We requested that the court issue a capias warrant to compel him to appear before the court for a subsequent contempt hearing. The court granted it!
I still represent Cheryl in her ongoing family law matters. She continues to seek child support from her ex-husband, and I represent her in her contempt action as well as negotiations regarding separation agreement issues that have arisen after her divorce. We continue to build a strong rapport as client and attorney based on diligent work, and mutual trust and reliability.
Daniela Manrique JD’15 was a student attorney in the year-long Family Law Advocacy Clinic. She also was a legal intern with the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office of Child Protection Unit and member of the Health Law Moot Court team. She currently is an associate at Ropes & Gray in Boston. To learn more about Suffolk’s clinics, visit www.suffolk.edu/law/clinics.