What is a Career in 

Domestic Violence Legal Advocacy?

A career in domestic violence legal advocacy may span one or more of the following substantive areas of law: housing, family law, public benefits, immigration law, public policy, criminal law, economic justice, workplace rights, disability law, education and others. Domestic violence lawyers typically spend their careers either in direct service helping clients affected by abuse or in policy helping to draft legislation. Though domestic violence work has traditionally occurred in the U.S. legal system, a growing number of lawyers are focusing on addressing abuse internationally. Work settings in this field range from nonprofits and NGOs to law school clinics, government agencies, courts and private practice.

A career in this field can be challenging, meaningful and rewarding. We encourage you to learn more about domestic violence legal advocacy by tapping into the career resources below.

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Why I Choose to be a Domestic Violence Attorney

By Daniel Laguna

SOAR Scholarship Committee Member

Deciding on an area of law to practice in during school or the infancy of your attorney career can be tremendously difficult. Thankfully, at this stage in your career the desire to help others is at its peak. In seeking to maintain that commitment, I encourage you to consider volunteering at your local domestic violence clinic. I am confident it will cultivate your desire to grow in this rewarding field.

After graduating from law school, I decided to open up my own family law practice. I took on several pro bono domestic violence cases and volunteered at a domestic violence legal clinic. This work was very meaningful. Then an opportunity to work at a nonprofit presented itself and eventually I became the supervisor for the domestic violence restraining order clinic, giving me the ability to grow in my commitment to domestic violence survivors.

Representing survivors of abuse is incredibly gratifying as you are guiding people toward a life without abuse. You are shedding light in perhaps the darkest moments of a person's life. As a domestic violence attorney you have the opportunity to educate the court on the trauma your client has endured and why protection is necessary. You also have the opportunity to establish a record that may eventually be used in the future criminal prosecution of the abuser. Most importantly, you can be the voice for children who experience abuse but are often unheard. While each case presents its own set of difficulties, it also fuels your energy for the next case. This is why I choose to be a domestic violence attorney.

If you are debating embarking on this career track, I encourage you to volunteer at your local domestic violence clinic to get a sense of the work. I am confident it will cultivate your desire to grow in this field.

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My Path to Domestic Violence Pro Bono Work

By Dovie Yoana King

SOAR Founder & Director

When I graduated from law school in 1999, I knew I would use my law degree to be a fierce advocate for disadvantaged people. As the daughter of immigrants from Mexico and Costa Rica, I grew up in poverty though both my parents were hard-working people. I saw injustice around me and as a lawyer my goal was to serve immigrant and low-income communities most in need of justice. Then in a twist of fate, almost 20 years into my legal career, I finally found the most important work of my life as a domestic violence attorney.

This is how the story unfolds. I got married early into my attorney career, but rather than experience happiness I faced years of emotional, physical, verbal and financial abuse. Over time, I became a shell of the person I used to be. I was empty, fearful, isolated and shattered. I eventually decided to break the silence, which helped me overcome the most devastating chapter in my life. I was lucky to connect with a domestic violence program and get free services. I went to court and obtained a restraining order and sole legal and physical custody of my child. This was a truly terrifying experience.

I decided to use my legal skills to assist other women facing similar circumstances at a restraining order legal clinic. At first it was tough, as I was re-living my traumatic experience through the stories victims shared with me. One memorable person I helped was a woman who survived a strangulation attempt by her husband. Her eye was noticeably blood-shot due to hemorrhaging resulting from being choked. I drafted a declaration in support of her request for a restraining order, and she wept as I read her own words aloud describing the abusive incident. I could tell she felt supported and believed. This experience compelled me to stick it out and eventually the clinic gave me a new lease in life. I feel I make the difference between life and death in some cases, and this is a responsibility I take seriously and embrace openly.

Domestic violence legal advocacy has allowed me to turn my life around because it provides me with a mechanism to guide others facing crisis. I provide women with compassion and empathy during a horribly difficult situation. I feel I am helping survivors achieve a stronger voice in the legal process, and this is very empowering.

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