Lisa Kelly and Alicia LeVezu, Until the Client Speaks: Reviving the Legal-Interest Model for Preverbal Children, 50 Fam. L. Q. 383 (2016), https://digitalcommons.law.uw.edu/faculty-articles/317
Family Law Quarterly
attorneys, best interest of the child, child abuse and neglect
This article seeks to revive and develop further the concept of legalinterest advocacy, which was first introduced by the American Bar Association in 1996. This overlooked model offers a workable alternative to both the best-interest and substituted-judgment representation models for preverbal clients. Through legal-interest advocacy, attorneys for preverbal children are charged with ensuring that the many rights given to infants are enforced, while withdrawing from attorneys the ability to impose their values on the child client. This article outlines how legal-interest advocacy representation can ensure that a child's legal rights are protected and preserved until the child client can speak and direct his or her own representation.
Part II of this article provides an overview of the historical debate regarding the role of counsel for children and the limitations of that debate in terms of addressing the appropriate role of counsel for preverbal youth. Part III discusses the concept of legal-interest representation for preverbal children as a limitation on an attorney's discretion, walking through various hypothetical case scenarios to describe how legal-interest advocacy can work in practice. Part IV addresses concerns about the legal-interest model and concludes that, ultimately, legal-interest representation is the most ethical way for attorneys to protect the rights of their preverbal child clients without substituting their own values for those of a client in need of legal protection and deserving of the right to mature into his or her own autonomous agent.