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UW College of Law Named Top School for Family Law

September 16, 2019
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The University of Wyoming College of Law was recently recognized by PreLaw Magazine and the National Jurist as a Best Law School for Family Law. This accolade comes after the recent, permanent hire of Dona Playton as an Associate Professor of Law and the Faculty Director of the Family & Child Legal Advocacy Clinic.

Graduating for the UW College of Law herself in 1993, Professor Playton returns to the College of Law in a tenure-track position. Playton began teaching at the College of Law in 2002 as a Senior Lecturer after serving as a Supervising Attorney at the Wyoming Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault. It was then that she founded the Family and Child Legal Advocacy Clinic.

dona-playtonPlayton briefly left the College of Law when she served as Director of the Honoring Families Initiative at the University of Denver Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System (IAALS).  In her role she engaged in research, advocacy, and national collaboration efforts to promote the legal system for families experiencing divorce, separation, and child custody issues. She returned to Laramie in 2017 as a Municipal Court Judge for the City of Laramie, and is now back at the helm of the Clinic in her permanent capacity.

In addition to her work in the Clinic, Playton teaches the bulk of the family law curriculum at the College of Law including Family Law, Domestic Violence Law, and Children and the Law.

Her scholarship is driven by utility and practicality, serving as a resource for family law matters. She has contributed extensively to local and state policy on issues ranging from domestic violence, family law, juvenile law and access to justice issues.  She is also the author of the Wyoming Domestic Violence Benchbook, A Practical and Comprehensive Source of Information and Law. The Benchbook serves as an all-inclusive guide to assisting judges and attorneys as they mitigate situations where domestic violence may be at play, and is a go-to resource for all practitioners in Wyoming working within family law issues.

In conjunction to her scholarship, Playton regularly dedicates her direct services to the state. She was recently honored by the ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service for her outstanding participation in Wyoming’s Free Legal Answers program, in which is offered free advise for more than 50 civil legal questions.

The national recognition as a top law school in family law from PreLaw Magazine, is due in large part to Playton’s dedication to family law, and her commitment to increasing resources and exposure to the needs of the most vulnerable populations in Wyoming.

The College of Law has worked to fill the gap in the legal community by hosting several workshops, trainings, and continuing legal education programs, including hosting the Family Law Forum which took place in July 2019. Participation within these discussions not only helps students get a well-rounded education, but also allows them to network and forge relationships with active practitioners in the area of family law and domestic violence.

While the College of Law is actively working to promote the area of family law, the Clinical work is the true beacon of success. The Family and Child Legal Advocacy Clinic is operated by third-year law students who represent low income clients in family and juvenile court matters, including domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking cases, as well as divorce, child custody, termination of parental rights, adoption, guardianship, and as guardians ad litem in private custody or public child welfare cases.

It is one of the top organizations in the state offering legal services for domestic and family issues, boasting a state-wide presence. In its 17th year of operation, the Clinic has represented clients in all 23 counties of Wyoming. The Clinic handles some of the most high-impacting cases, literally saving the lives of its clients and making positive changes for the citizens of the state.

Playton has significantly raised the profile of the Clinic, and improved the quality of an already vital resource by integrating a more holistic approach to the operating procedures. The Clinic now incorporates resources for its clients beyond the scope of legal aid. This entails connecting clients with local entities such as child support services, domestic violence and sexual assault programs in respective counties, employment services programs such as CLIMB Wyoming, and mental health and counseling services. The Clinic has also partnered with the University of Wyoming Counseling program to connect clients with student counseling interns.

“The mission of the Family and Child Legal Advocacy Clinic has always been to provide better access to justice for the most vulnerable populations in Wyoming,” says Playton. “With our new transformative approach of trauma-informed legal representation, we are striving to not only provide legal services to a demographic that would otherwise not receive any legal aid, but also to make generational changes for our clients and break the ongoing pattern of trauma.”

As well as providing comprehensive resources for clients, Playton has also dedicated attention to an emphasis on wellness for the students working within the Clinic. The caseload in the Clinic often involves clients and children in legitimate danger, which requires students to carry a heavy burden of safely planning, worst-case scenario preparation, and emotional investment in their clients. In order to cope with that weight, Playton wants to ensure that students are equipped with the tools to take care of themselves as well.

“The kind of work we do can really start to take a toll on you both physically and emotionally,” she comments. “We build into the Clinic methods to teach students to check in and exercise self-care.”

With the evolution of the procedures has also come a shift in the types of cases and representation that the Clinic offers. Recently, the Clinic has started taking on high conflict cases, which has resulted in an uptick of trial work. Additionally, the Clinic has began working with clients incarcerated in the Wyoming Women’s Center in Lusk, Wyo. on family law and child-related issues. These new types of cases have garnered more experience in the courtroom for the students, allowing them to expand the scope of their advocacy skills beyond strategies and tactics associated with pleadings, pre-trial motions, and discovery.

The benefits created by the Clinic are immeasurable. Clients with limited means are able to receive life-changing legal representation, students gain the skills to enter the legal profession as competent and compassionate advocates, and the state benefits from an essential resource as well as an up-and-coming generation of effective attorneys. The College of Law is extremely proud of our legal clinics and is excited to continue to see growth and advancement within the realm of family law, and is fortunate to have such invested faculty like Professor Playton.

Contact Us

College of Law

1000 E. University Ave., Dept. 3035

Laramie, WY 82071

Phone: 307-766-6416

Fax: 307-766-6417

Email: lawadmis@uwyo.edu

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