Children, Families & the Law Certification Program at JFKU Law

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Comm. Josanna Berkow (Ret.)

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Dean E. Barbieri

In 2012, JFK University College of Law implemented a specialized curriculum for students interested in a practice focused on children and families. The Children, Families & the Law (CFL) Program is designed to ensure that these graduates are truly ready to practice in this challenging field. The CFL Program follows JFK‘s well-established tradition of providing law students the “practice-based, experiential learning designed to develop practice competence” recently adopted by State Bar’s Board of Trustees.

There are three fundamental components of the CFL Program. Practice in this area has grown exponentially with the evolving definition of family. In recognition of these developments, we have expanded the traditional family law coursework to incorporate the “crossover” issues now important for modern practice such as juvenile dependency, domestic violence, adoption, artificial reproduction and resultant parentage issues, guardianship, immigration and elder law.

Second, to train the most effective practitioners, we combined the expanded substantive law covered with a substantial practice skill component. Our students learn about interviewing vulnerable clients (both adults and minors), client counseling skills and about preparing expert witnesses for specific CFL applications such as custody, counseling, parenting education, substance abuse evaluation and treatment, family violence, business and property valuation, retirement, tracing and other accounting issues, and vocational evaluation. The skills component includes writing exercises to address the increasingly complex pleadings and agreements in this field as well as negotiation skills learned through exercises involving common family disputes.

The third component of CFL focuses on the use of alternative dispute resolution processes for children and families including mediation, cooperative and collaborative law. Our students develop ADR skills through class exercises and by assisting self-represented clients prepare for court settlement conference at a monthly evening clinic run in partnership by JFK University, the Family Law Section of the Contra Costa County Bar Association (CCCBA) and the Contra Costa Superior Court.

The CFL Program accomplishes these goals through mandatory course work in an enhanced basic class followed by a seminar held concurrently with students working with real litigants with real disputes in approved CFL externships. CFL externships have included the Family Law Division of the Superior Court, the Department of Child Support Services, Legal Aid Dependency Programs in Contra Costa and Alameda counties (representing parents and children), BayLegal restraining order clinics and its new Re-entry Program for individuals returning from incarceration.

CFL students must also take elective courses in related areas choosing from Elder Law, Tax and Estate Planning, Juvenile Dependency and Delinquency, Domestic Violence Law, Immigration Law and other ADR options. Many CFL students do their elective work through JFK’s re-envisioned Legal Clinic for Elders that combines substantive elder law coursework with the specific needs of litigants such as Durable Powers of Attorney, Advance Health Care Directives, simple wills, (in some instances Revocable Trusts), complicated Medi-Cal and or public benefits issues, probate matters, conservatorships and special needs trusts.

Our first two students graduated with a CFL certificate in June 2013; we anticipate an additional five students will receive certificates upon graduation this year. We are confident that the CFL Program will continue to educate skilled practitioners dedicated to protecting the rights and responsibilities of children and families. Several attorneys seeking additional knowledge in the field have audited CFL classes and we welcome them as well. Please contact us to share your ideas for future CFL externships and seminars; we look forward to hearing from you.


Dean E. Barbieri is the Dean of the John F. Kennedy University College of Law, and Vice President for Academic Affairs at JFK. Dean also serves on the Bar Association’s Board of Directors. Contact Dean at dbarbieri@jfku.edu or at (925) 969-3562.

Commissioner Josanna Berkow retired in 2013 from the Contra Costa Superior Court after 20 years on the family law bench and currently works as a private judge offering lawyers involved in family disputes an alternative to standard court process based on mediation. She is also an adjunct professor at the John F. Kennedy College of Law in Pleasant Hill, where she serves as faculty advisor for a new specialized curriculum that she developed titled Children, Families & the Law, and at Golden Gate University School of Law in San Francisco, where she teaches a new course titled Alternative Dispute Resolution for Children & Families. Contact Josanna at jberkow@jberkow.com or at (888) 507-4883.

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