History of the Clinics

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The Development of the Law Clinics

The early success and development of the clinics are attributable to the dedicated efforts of the founders – Professor Emeritus James R. Pierce, Professor Emeritus Gerald T. Bennett (deceased), Hon. Stephan P. Mickle (Northern District of Florida), Hon. Robert Benton (First District Court of Appeal, Florida), and Professor Don Peters.

The original legal clinics of the University of Florida law school officially opened in 1968 under the design and direction of Professor James R. Pierce who founded the college’s Defense Clinic. He was joined by Professor Gerald T. Bennett, who from the late 1960s until his retirement in 1998 directed the Prosecutor Clinic, and Professor Don Peters (now Acting Director of the Virgil Hawkins Civil Clinics and Director, Institute for Dispute Resolution), who created and opened the civil clinics in 1973. In 1989, Governor Martinez signed a legislative bill into law which named the University of Florida’s civil clinics as the Virgil Darnell Hawkins Civil Legal Clinics.

Their commitment to the vital purpose of providing legal services to local citizens who could not otherwise afford representation is a cornerstone of the clinics. This service goal and the important educational objective of training for professionalism through the practical application of the rules of law continue to be the foundation of the clinics today.

At its inception, under the law direction of Professor Don Peters, the civil clinic collaborated with Storefront Legal Aid in Gainesville to provide legal services to indigent clients. Storefront later reorganized and expanded to 12 counties under the name of Three Rivers Legal Services, a private, not-for-profit, corporation, providing free civil, legal assistance to the low-income community of North Central Florida. Initially, low income clients were interviewed by VHCC interns at the legal aid office as part of that program’s client intake. Cases were then staffed to be handled either by Three Rivers or by the Virgil Hawkins Civil Legal Clinics. Professor Anne L. Spitzer (deceased) joined with Professor Peters to run the clinical programs for approximately 20 years.

Under the direction of Legal Skills Professor Jeffrey T. Grater, the VHCC Full Representation Clinic continues that collaboration with Three Rivers, except that the interns do not perform their intake at Three Rivers. In 1997 a new clinic was established by Legal Skills Professors Peggy F. Schrieber and Iris A. Burke, the Pro Se/Unbundling Family Law Advice Clinic, to work with the Family Court Self Help of the Eighth Judicial Circuit and assist low income pro se litigants in family law cases. In 1998, the juvenile law clinic, Gator TeamChild, was founded by Legal Skills Professor Claudia Wright to address the legal needs of children in North Central Florida. The County Court Mediation Clinic was first offered in 1999 by Professor Don Peters and Legal Skills Professor Alison Gerencser to train law student volunteer mediators in the Small Claims Court of Alachua County as well as offer dispute resolution peer training for juveniles with special needs.

In 2010 the Intimate Partner Violence Assistance Clinic (IPVAC) was founded by Director Teresa Drake. Funded with a grant for the Department of Justice/Office of Violence Against Women, IPVAC is a partnership between the Levin College of Law, College of Medicine, Shands Teaching Hospital and Clinics and Peaceful Paths Domestic Violence Abuse Network. Law students work collaboratively with a social worker and outreach counselor to meet the legal and social needs of indigent victims of domestic violence referred through medical clinics or from the community.

In 2013, The Full Representation Clinic changed its name to The Family Advocacy Clinic.