Third-year law students Shima Jalalipour and Kevin Potere are standing nervously outside a small courtroom in Nashville's Juvenile Court building. The atmosphere in the building is deceptively casual for a place where, as one employee states bluntly, "You could lose your kids."
Jalalipour and Potere are representing an indigent mother in a child custody battle, under the supervision of Professor Yoli Redero, who teaches clinics addressing family law and domestic violence issues. The woman's former partner, who never married the children's mother, has provided limited support in the past and never had custody of the children. Now the woman has a new partner, and the children's father has hired an attorney and petitioned for custody for the two children. Mediation has thus far proven unsuccessful.
In the small courtroom, Juvenile Referee Sheila Calloway, '94, listens solemnly as Jalalipour and Potere and the attorney representing the children's father question the two parents. Under Professor Redero's supervision, the two Vanderbilt students have done extensive research to determine if the father is capable of providing adequate housing, day care and a safe environment for the young children, and to prove that their mother provides a good, safe home. The students have not only built a solid case proving the mother's ability to care for the children, but they've also uncovered the fact that the housing the father plans to provide for the children currently lacks heating and air conditioning as well as water and sewer services.
Professor Redero, who is affiliated with Vanderbilt's Social Justice Program, says that students benefit from the experience of actually handling a legal case regardless of the type of legal work they pursue as a career. "They become familiar with courtroom procedures and conduct, the kinds of questions your client needs to be prepared to answer, and the incredible amount of research you need to do to do a good job presenting your client's case," Redero says. "That experience proves valuable regardless of what type of law you end up practicing."