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SULC’s clinical education program helping victims of domestic violence

As the assMarcia Burdenociate professor of clinical education, Marcia Burden, along with SULC student attorneys she supervises, provide free protective orders to those who are in abusive relationships.  The Domestic Violence and Divorce Clinic also provides free divorces and handles cases involving child support and child custody issues.

Last year, the program handled more than 300 cases.

“It’s the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done in my career and I’ve done a lot of things,” said Burden, ’90.   “Everybody wins. The students get practical experience and the victims get access to justice without having to pay an attorney or worry about legal fees.”

The Domestic Violence Clinic was started at SULC in 2003. Burden has been in the position ever since. Students get three credit hours for taking the class. As part of the class, they work on the cases under Burden’s supervision.

The clinic provides pro bono services to low-income residents who qualify.  It started out with protective orders only and has progressed to include the other cases. Each student can be working on as many as five cases at one time.

“Students are authorized by the Supreme Court to be able to practice in court under my supervision,” she said.  “We screen the applications, assign cases to the student attorney, and he or she handles the case from beginning to end.”

Burden has a passion for helping women and children.  Prior to working at the Law Center, she was a special education teacher and a public defender for the East Baton Rouge Parish Juvenile Court. She also worked for the Battered Women’s Program in Baton Rouge.

“Throughout my career, I’ve always tried to assist children. I want to see children in a stable home and I realized that until mom can provide that, it’s not going to happen.  So we have to make sure parents get what they need in order for the children to get what they need.”

The attorney who at one time owned her own practice earned a bachelor’s degree from LSU and a master’s degree from the University of Lafayette at Louisiana.  She decided to go to law school after her husband Jerry, who is an attorney and an ’81 SULC graduate, suggested it.

She chose SULC because of her husband. She also didn’t want to go to LSU’s law school because she had already gone there for undergraduate work.

Meanwhile, she knows all too well that one in every four women will be abused and every nine seconds someone is a victim of domestic violence.

While it may be impossible to get rid of domestic violence altogether, she believes the work that she and the students are doing is making a difference.

“It’s more than just going to court and advocating for them. It’s helping them move on with their lives.