Spectrum Youth and Family Services’ Legal Clinic

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Burlington, Vt.
(802) 864-7423

Objective: Providing a free, weekly, walk-in legal clinic for youth who are homeless, on the run or in trouble with the law.

In a Nutshell: The nonprofit clinic provides youth under the age of 22 with an opportunity to discuss legal issues and other matters and receive referrals to appropriate services. Youth also can get legal advice from volunteer attorneys by phone at the clinic. Spectrum’s other services also include counseling, a health clinic, residential programs and an emergency shelter.

Where It Happens: The clinic is housed in the service’s “Spectrum One Stop” building in downtown Burlington, Vt.

When It Began: Clinic staff began advising youth in July 2000.

Who Started It: Attorney Hillary Kramer started the clinic six years ago, leaving her law practice in California to head the clinic and other juvenile justice programs for Spectrum.

Who Runs It: Kramer runs the program as the sole staff member, but is helped out by youth mentor volunteers. Approximately 10 attorneys have offered free legal assistance, either by offering education, advice or full representation.

Early Obstacles: “Letting youth know that the service existed and what we could offer,” Kramer says.

How They Overcame Them:
Fliers, sandwich boards, and staff of other Spectrum services were all trained in the basics of the clinic and instructed to spread the word.

Cost: $15,000 per year. This amount covers one day a week of Kramer’s salary, library resources, and a contribution toward general overhead.

Who Pays: The principal funders are the Vermont Bar Foundation ($10,000) and the Vermont Community Foundation ($2,000).

Who Else Has Kicked In:
The resource library has been bolstered by donations from local law firms and others.

Youth Served: The clinic serves all youth under 22, particularly those who are in any of Spectrum’s programs.

Youth Turn-On:
“Youth appreciate the time we offer to answer all their questions and support them to make positive decisions,” Kramer says. “They like talking to a free lawyer.”

Youth Turn-Off: There do not seem to be any “turn-offs,” Kramer says, because the voluntary service has no real requirements or demands. But, says Kramer, “they do have to deal with some hard choices. A lot of them probably come in thinking that the offense will just go away.”

Research Shows: In the past year, the clinic served 52 youth. Clients were helped with emancipation; employment issues such as hiring, harassment and firings; housing issues like leases, evictions and deposits; restraining orders; and criminal matters like arrest, court procedures and representation.

What Still Gets in the Way:
Determining the variety of ways to offer legal education and support to youth. Another challenge continues to be how to create sustainable funding for the clinic. Kramer is currently looking for large national funders for all the Spectrum juvenile justice initiatives, including a restorative justice alternative to court for youth who commit petty offenses.