Emma Hetherington, assistant clinical professor in the School of Law and the inaugural director of the Wilbanks Child Endangerment and Sexual Exploitation Clinic, teaches and inspires future lawyers to represent children and survivors of abuse.
Where did you earn degrees and what are your current responsibilities at UGA?
I earned my undergraduate degree in comparative literature and French at Emory University in Atlanta. I received my Juris Doctor from the University of Georgia School of Law. I am currently an assistant clinical professor at Georgia Law and the director of the Wilbanks Child Endangerment and Sexual Exploitation (CEASE) Clinic.
When did you come to UGA and what brought you here?
I came to UGA a little over two years ago to be the first director of the CEASE Clinic. The clinic, the first of its kind in the nation, provides direct legal representation to survivors of child sexual abuse in civil lawsuits and juvenile court dependency (foster care) cases. After graduating from Georgia Law in 2011 I knew I wanted to come back to Athens, and the CEASE Clinic was not only an opportunity to be in Athens, but to teach and inspire future lawyers to represent children and survivors of abuse.
What are your favorite courses and why?
My main focus over the last two years has been creating the CEASE Clinic as not only a live legal clinic, but as a teaching center. Creating a curriculum that hasn’t been taught at any other law school has been a challenging and exciting task. The clinic accepts eight students each semester to work in the clinic and enroll in a weekly seminar. All of my students have been bright, energetic and zealous advocates for our clients and for learning. I recently taught a mini-course with both law and master’s of social work students, which was a rich experience given its interdisciplinary nature and one that I hope to expand to a full semester course in the future.
What are some highlights of your career at UGA?
Watching my students apply legal doctrine and practical skills to real-life cases is consistently the best part about my job. Whether watching one of my students cross-examine an alleged perpetrator in a deposition or present evidence in court, supervising students under Georgia’s law student practice rule never ceases to amaze me. Every time I see a future lawyer exceeding expectations in a real-life scenario, I am reminded of the importance of the role of clinical legal education and why I am proud to be a part of the Georgia Law community.
How do you describe the scope and impact of your research or scholarship to people outside of your field?
Through a recent partnership with the School of Social Work, my research and scholarship has focused on trauma-informed, interdisciplinary representation of survivors of abuse and neglect. Trauma-informed practice impacts several fields outside of law, all of which must work together when assisting survivors. In the child welfare system, a survivor of sexual abuse will have stakeholders from different disciplines guiding them through an often-devastating process. Too often, stakeholders do not effectively work with one another, to the detriment of survivors. Social workers, psychologists, educators, medical personnel, victim advocates, lawyers and others must learn to speak a common language, provide appropriate services and focus on the unique needs of each client in order to decrease retraumatization and improve outcomes.
How does your research or scholarship inspire your teaching, and vice versa?
Clinical legal education is all about putting theory into practice and using practice to develop theory. As a result, my research and scholarship inspire my teaching in both the classroom and clinical teaching contexts, and vice versa. When supervising students in the clinic, we often encounter unique legal questions that must be answered in order to effectively advocate for our clients. The research developed from our real-life cases often leads to new ideas for research and subjects for the seminar portion of the course. On the other side, during the seminar I conduct case rounds where students engage in “deep dive” discussions about our clinic cases. Case rounds are a great opportunity to discuss how the research or scholarship I am working on can be applied to both the seminar discussions and legal cases.
What do you hope students gain from their classroom experience with you?
I hope my students leave my classroom and clinic knowing how to weave trauma-informed practice into their future careers. Whether my students go into child advocacy or corporate law, learning how to empathetically and ethically practice law are skills that can be generalized into any area of legal practice.
Describe your ideal student.
My ideal student is open-minded, ready to learn and excited to make a positive impact in their community. As future lawyers, they will be able to protect the individual and collective rights of their clients. In order to do so effectively, they will need to be able to see all sides of an issue and think creatively to find successful solutions.
Favorite place to be/thing to do on campus is…
My favorite place to be on campus is the Hatton Lovejoy Courtroom in the School of Law’s Hirsch Hall. I love the architecture of old courthouses, especially those in the South, and Hatton Lovejoy reminds me of the courthouse where I had my first trial as a practicing attorney. Every time I am in Hatton Lovejoy I think about the lawyers who have influenced my career and who continue to inspire me to seek further knowledge and understanding of the law.
Beyond the UGA campus, I like to…
I love to cook. I am more of a “left-brained” person and have little to no talent in areas such as fine arts. However, I have found that the kitchen is my creative outlet. Having friends and family over to my house to eat is one of my favorite things to do.
Community/civic involvement includes….
I am a volunteer peer coordinator with Children First’s court appointed special advocates (CASA) program here in Athens. As part of my volunteer position I mentor several law students who serve as non-legal advocates for children in foster care. I first became a CASA in 2009 when I was in law school and was excited to volunteer again with the program.
I am also on the board of the Athens Area Homeless Shelter. I wanted to get involved with AAHS because I used to work at the Georgia Law Center for the Homeless in Atlanta. As a former attorney for individuals and families experiencing homelessness, I hope I can make a difference here in my new community.
Favorite book/movie (and why)?
I can’t really say I have a favorite book, but I do have several that have influenced my life, education and career. “Madame Bovary” by Gustave Flaubert was one of my favorite books in high school and influenced me to major in French during college so that I could read it in its original language. As I took more courses in the French department at Emory, I expanded my limited view of French literature and enrolled in several courses focused on Francophone literature from African and Caribbean nations. Through those classes I was introduced to authors and activists such as Assia Djebar, Aimé Césaire and Mariama Bâ who expanded my understanding of world history and social justice.
As with books, I don’t have a favorite movie, but I do love the original “Muppet Movie.” The Muppets taught me to never give up on my dreams and about the art of a good pun.
The one UGA experience I will always remember will be…
My first day teaching as a professor at the law school is a day I will never forget. It was a surreal experience to return to the place where I had very recently been a student. I didn’t know what to expect, but my students were amazing and I immediately realized how lucky I was that UGA took a chance on me to start a new clinic and course that had never been taught before.