Work at Crisis Centers and Women’s Shelter Opens Door to Family Law Focus for Three Students
Melissa Thompson, a third year law student from Cincinnati, chose UC Law for several reasons: the Weaver Institute for Law & Psychiatry, the Domestic Violence and Civil Protection Order Clinic, and the school’s size and reputation. “I have been a fellow of the Weaver Institute for two years now,” said Thompson, “and it has provided me great opportunities to study and experience firsthand the intersection of the fields of law and psychiatry.”
She did her undergraduate studies at Indiana University Bloomington, where she studied human development & family studies and French, and minored in psychology and sociology.
Thompson explained how she developed her interest in family law, noting her exposure to this area while a student at IU Bloomington. “I volunteered in the legal department of a Bloomington domestic violence shelter, Middle Way House. I worked alongside attorneys to counsel clients about how to fill out the court required paperwork for civil protection orders and often attended court with them, not to speak on their behalf, but as support when they faced their alleged abuser.”
She also completed work there with a research team to better understand domestic violence within the community and worked to help authorities better address the issue of recidivism. “It was during my time at Middle Way House that I began to understand how important the field of family law is in the day-to-day lives of much of our society. I recognized a need in society for lawyers, judges, and legal professionals who genuinely understand the real-world dynamics of abuse, whether it’s domestic violence, spousal abuse, child abuse, etc. I sought to fill this gap.”
Since the summer after her first year at UC Law, Thompson has worked as a clerk at a Cincinnati family law firm. She has shadowed attorneys, met with clients, drafted motions and memoranda, and assisted in trial preparation. Apart from the ability to help people, she enjoys family law because of how engaging and challenging it is academically. Look for an article by her to be published in UC’s Law Review which discusses visitation rights under the Hague Convention in the United States.
Shadowing Judges Leads to Career in Family Law
Cristin M.G. Fissinger became interested in family law after her time shadowing two judges in the domestic relations and juvenile courts (in Toledo, OH), where she was exposed to divorce and custody proceedings. “I saw people at some of the hardest points of their lives,” explained Fissinger, “and I knew if I could make the legal process a bit easier for them, then I was doing some good in this world.”
A third year law student from Sylvania, Ohio, she attended Xavier University, graduating with a degree in sociology and minors in economics and English. While at Xavier, Fissinger fell in love with Cincinnati as a city, and decided to attend UC Law to gain her legal training.
After her first year at the College of Law, she interned at the Children’s Law Center in Covington; she has also worked at Beckman Weil Sherpardson LLC as a law clerk. Both of these experiences have exposed her to various proceedings and issues in the area of family law, deepening her interest and passion to make a difference in this area of the law. “They say no one ever wins in domestic relations or family law,” said Fissinger. “Someone never gets exactly what they want, but if I can help protect my client from a bully, or arrive at a “fair” outcome, that is the greatest compromise among the parties, then I think I have accomplished something.”
Her experience as a law clerk has also exposed her to probate work, specifically elder law, Medicaid, wills, and estate planning, which are areas that she is also interested in pursuing.
Crisis Center Proves to be Life Changing
Abby McMahon, a 3L from Mansfield, Ohio, has always been interested in working with children and families. In fact, she has been a tutor since high school, and currently tutors students at nearby Hughes High School once a week. McMahon attended The Ohio State University, majoring in geography with a specialization in environment and society. “It was a mix of political science, economics, anthropology, and environmental studies. It was a really good background for law school because it opened up my eyes to the study of social justice and how so many people are taken advantage of because of their economic status, race, or societal situations.”
After undergrad, she worked for AmeriCorps for a year, ending up in Akron (OH) working at the Crisis Center for the Battered Women’s Shelter of Summit and Medina counties. The shelter acts as the first step for individuals fleeing a domestic violence situation. “I absolutely loved being at the shelter,” she shared. “It was challenging, uncomfortable at times, but always such a hopeful place.“ After working at the shelter, McMahon knew that she wanted to go to law school to be able to further help victims of domestic violence.
When it came time to choose a law school, she decided on UC Law because of the Domestic Violence and Civil Protection Order Clinic and the Freedom Center Journal, along with a desire to remain in Ohio. After her first year at UC Law, McMahon worked with Legal Aid of Western Ohio in their Sandusky office, working with victims of domestic violence. She helped two staff attorneys with civil protection orders and emergency custody hearings, spending most days in court and really enjoying it. “Domestic violence work can be really hard because the victims can change their mind and no longer want the CPO,” said McMahon, “but it doesn’t deter me from enjoying the work. I am available when they want help and accept when they don’t. I think the time I spent at the shelter helps me with accepting this reality, which can be too frustrating for some attorneys to want to go into or stay in that field.
During spring semester, McMahon plans to further hone her skills and experience as an intern with the Domestic Violence and Civil Protection Order clinic.