PUBLISHED:January 09, 2012

Fine '11 awarded prestigious fellowship to advocate for children

Lauren Fine ’11 has been awarded the Juvenile Law Center’s Zubrow Fellowship in Children’s Law, which will provide her an opportunity to work on behalf of children in Philadelphia’s delinquency and dependency systems. The Juvenile Law Center (JLC) is the oldest non-profit public interest law firm for children in the United States.

The two-year fellowship will allow Fine to work on litigation, policy and legislative efforts, and to train and direct representation on issues ranging from the rights of dependent youth aging out of the foster care system to the needs of juveniles reentering the community from delinquent placements.

Fine, who currently clerks for Judge David Strawbridge in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, began volunteering with child welfare and advocacy groups during high school, and continued as an undergraduate at Yale University and throughout her time at Duke Law.

A desire to address the root causes of the problems faced by children in the juvenile justice system was a large part of Fine's motivation for coming to law school in the first place.

“So many of our society’s underlying social and socioeconomic problems that manifest in crime, in punitive sentences, in victimization and in destroyed communities, start with children,” she said “While gratified by [work for child advocacy groups], I often felt frustrated by my inability to tackle the underlying causes of the children’s academic and social problems. I came to law school with a belief that the law provides an outlet for this frustration and an opportunity to help create structures or policy that are more just.”

Fine found many avenues and opportunities to pursue her interest in children’s issues at Duke. She spent her 1L summer at JLC, supported by a Steckley-Weitzel Fellowship and an education award from Equal Justice Works as a member of its Summer Corps. She organized an “ad hoc” course on juvenile justice, wrote a commentary in the Duke Journal of Constitutional Law and Public Policy (DJCLPP) entitled “Death Behind Bars: Examining Juvenile Life Without Parole in Sullivan v. Florida and Graham v. Florida,” and interned with the Medical-Legal Partnership for Children in Durham, through Legal Aid of North Carolina.

Among other activities, Fine served as the managing editor of DJCLPP and on the Moot Court Board, volunteered with several organizations at the law school, including the Innocence Project and Street Law, and served as the secretary of the Public Interest Law Foundation (PILF).

Working in the Children’s Law Clinic as a 3L, Fine focused primarily on the case of a high school freshman who faced possible expulsion after participating in a fight. "Because he required special education services, his case had an additional dimension beyond the typical school discipline incident," she said. "Fortunately, my partner and I were able to prove that the client did not deserve a long-term suspension because the school had failed to fulfill their legal obligations. We then persuaded the school district attorneys to offer additional educational services for the student, and engaged in follow-up counseling and assisted in the drafting process for his next Individualized Education Plan."

Brenda Berlin, senior lecturing fellow and supervising attorney in the Children's Law Clinic, called Fine as a “compassionate, thoughtful and determined legal advocate.”

“The case that Lauren and her partner handled was one of the most difficult cases the Children’s Clinic has handled -- not only were the legal issues complex, but to further complicate matters, the clients were not native English speakers,” Berlin said. “Lauren embraced and rose to every challenge presented in the case. For example, at one meeting, which lasted over seven hours, Lauren not only advocated successfully on behalf of her clients, she also translated the entire meeting for them, because she felt that the school district’s translator was not doing so adequately. I am so thrilled that Lauren will continue to use her tremendous natural gifts and legal skills advocating for children in need.”

“Lauren took her role as a legal representative very seriously used every experience to improve her skills,” added Clinical Professor Jane Wettach, director of the Children’s Law Clinic. “She is on her way to being a fabulous attorney.”