Law School Partners with Ries Law Group, YWCA to Help Domestic Violence Survivors

Taiyler Lindsey in front of YWCA sign

Years in the making, a partnership involving the School of Law, Missoula’s YWCA and the Ries Law Group received grant funding for the development of a new Relationship and Sexual Violence Legal Clinic. This clinic will be housed in The Meadowlark, the YWCA’s new family homeless and domestic violence shelter that is currently under construction. When it opens this spring, students in the Blewett School of Law’s Domestic Violence Clinic will hold office hours in The Meadowlark facility.

The Relationship and Sexual Violence Legal Clinic will be staffed by law students and supervising attorneys from Ries Law Group, a private local law firm specializing in issues of intimate partner violence, sexual violence and family homelessness. As a team they will provide holistic legal services, assistance and advocacy to those affected by intimate partner violence, sexual assault, dating violence and stalking.

“I really want to help individuals experiencing any and all forms domestic violence to navigate the legal system, which can be really complicated and scary, in a way that empowers them and allows them to feel safer,” said Taiyler Lindsey, a third-year law student in the law school’s Domestic Violence Clinic interning with Ries Law Group.

Lindsey took domestic violence law in the fall of her second year and related how overwhelmed she was by how far-reaching domestic violence issues are in the law.

“It can reach into every corner of a person’s life,” said Lindsey.

Not only is interning with Ries Law Group through the Domestic Violence Clinic a way for her help survivors in the Missoula community, but the experience also serves as an opportunity for her to gain unique in-depth knowledge of this area of the law.

Lindsey said she was excited to have more face-to-face time with clients and advocates, who attorneys and interns in clinics would seldom have the opportunity to interact with directly due outside of court to the constraints of a regular clinic. At the new Relationship and Sexual Violence Clinic, however, it will be commonplace.

“Having the ability to get in close with the YWCA and their advocates is going to help us develop our team further and get a full, comprehensive group together for our clients,” she said.

In addition to orders of protection, visitation and other legal matters directly associated with survivors of intimate partner violence, sexual assault, and stalking, the new Relationship and Sexual Violence Clinic will assist with equally pressing ancillary needs such as consumer protection, immigration and landlord-tenant issues.

“It makes it easier for survivors to deal with all the aspects of what it means to be a survivor,” said Andrew King-Ries, law professor and faculty supervisor for the Domestic Violence Clinic.

“This new grant allows us to expand,” said Brandi Ries, founding attorney at Ries Law Group. “We’ll be able to have at least one more intern from the law school who will be housed with us.”

Ries, a 2007 UM School of Law alumna, has co-instructed the Domestic Violence Clinic with Professor King-Ries and supervised students’ clinic hours over the last three years. For the first time, this three-year grant will make it possible for Ries Law Group to retain clinic interns over a sustained period of time and year-round rather than just fall and spring. In the past her firm continued to provide wrap-around services during the summer pro bono.

Ries Law Group, P.C. is experienced in partnership with local advocacy organizations – the firm has also provided grant-funded legal services to survivors in partnership with Sanders County Coalition for Families (Thompson Falls) and Safe Harbor (Lake County and the CSKT) for many years.

The grant will also fund the continuation of YWCA Missoula’s Planet Kid Supervised Visitation and Exchange Program, the only provider in the region for safe, monitored court-ordered and voluntary visits between children and their non-residential parents.

The final critical component the grant will pay for is training conducted by Ries Law Group to local court-based personnel on areas of victims’ rights, dynamics of domestic violence perpetrator behavior, evidence-based risk factors for domestic homicide and other issues relating to the needs of victims.

“There is a tremendous need for civil legal services for survivors here,” said Ries. “My goal with the clinic has always been, basically, to help create an army of civil legal services attorneys who can provide high-quality, competent civil legal representation for domestic and violence and sexual violence survivors across the state of Montana, whether they focus their careers on that or are willing to provide representation through pro bono work, modest means or full-pay representation.”

Ries shared that another aspect of that goal is providing education and training to the interns so that they can go on to educate the judiciary, inform other attorneys in their communities, and build relationships with other professionals and to create systemic change.

With the opening of The Meadowlark, the Law School, Ries Law Group and the YWCA will work together to provide essential holistic legal and advocacy services, with the goal of supporting survivors as they move beyond the cycle of violence.