Law students Rachael Mullins, Christian LaParne and Carrie Miller are learning how to help abused and neglected children.
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Three students at the West Virginia University College of Law are learning firsthand how to provide quality legal representation for children in abuse and neglect cases.
Rachael Mullins, Carrie Miller and Christian LaParne are participating in a new externship program through the West Virginia Court Improvement Program Board. The Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia has designated the CIP with improving the state’s foster care and judicial processes.
The students, all 2Ls, are conducting 100 hours of fieldwork in addition to their semester-long externship course. They attend hearings and multi-disciplinary team meetings, tour group homes and juvenile centers, make home visits, conduct legal research and prepare legal documents.
Mullins, Miller and LaParne are supervised by attorneys from Lyons Phillips Legal Group, PLLC, and Jessica Haught, director of the Fitzsimmons Center for Litigation and Advocacy at WVU Law.
“Through these types of public service externships, our students develop essential advocacy skills and gain an appreciation of the real difference they can make as they advocate for children and families,” Haught said.
Before law school, Mullins earned an education degree from Marshall University and spent two years teaching at a high school in Logan County, West Virginia.
“I really couldn’t make the difference I wanted to with my teaching degree. I needed a law degree,” she said.
Miller did not initially plan to be a lawyer, either. After earning a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Colorado-Denver, she decided to pursue public interest law.
“I knew I wanted to focus on juvenile law and family law in some kind of way,” Miller said. “I had personal experiences with my own family that were difficult as a child. I feel personally committed to helping children.”
LaParne says his interest in family law was sparked by his mother, a family practice attorney in central Pennsylvania.
“It’s so hard to see these little kids and where they live,” he said. “I always like to feel like I am a positive impact on these kids. It’s shocking seeing the living situations these kids have. The kids touch your heart for sure.”
The CIP decided to work with WVU Law on the externship program because the state needs many more attorneys who are qualified to represent litigants in abuse and neglect cases. Just over 5% (or 251) of the active, in-state West Virginia State Bar members are willing and qualified to be guardians ad litem, court-appointed attorneys who represent children in abuse and neglect cases.
“We want to increase the pipeline of attorneys who wish to practice abuse and neglect law so that children receive quality legal representation,” said Cindy Largent-Hill, director of the Supreme Court’s Division of Children and Juvenile Services, which is managing the program and provides staff support to the CIP.
Kristen Antolini and Teresa Lyons, both WVU Law graduates, are the Morgantown-based attorneys working with Mullins, Miller and LaParne.
“Teresa and Kristen make sure we are very included in the conversation,” said Miller. “We are really getting to be on the ground and talking with judges and talking with practitioners and talking with families and foster parents. It’s the perfect combination of practical and academic. I feel very lucky to be able to have this eye-opening experience.”
For Haught, the extern partnership exemplifies WVU Law’s commitment to the law in public service.
“Given the significant need for high-quality advocacy and representation of children and families in the abuse and neglect system throughout the state, the College of Law is committed to providing our students with these types of experiences and training to better equip them to practice and serve our communities,” she said.
A version of this news release was provided by the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia.