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More than 8 of 10 people with cases in Philadelphia’s Family Court lack the resources to hire an attorney and, as a result, must proceed unrepresented. For close to two decades, attorney Sarah Katz has worked to combat this shocking statistic and ensure low-income Philadelphians have representation in the cases that can change their and their children’s futures. “People’s closest family relationships are at stake,” she says. “For me, nothing matters more.”
Sarah has always centered her work on children and families. After graduating from Columbia University, she worked at the Children’s Defense Fund, where she helped ensure immigrant families had access to the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). “I met some amazing public interest lawyers there,” she says, “and I decided I wanted their job, instead of mine.”
Although Sarah attended law school at the University of Pennsylvania determined to make a difference through policy work, her experiences in the courtroom opened her eyes to the impact of direct service.
“I loved working with individual clients, and I realized we can’t advocate for kids without advocating for their parents too,”
she says. After law school, she worked at Community Legal Services for 8 years, before being named director of Temple University’s Family Law Litigation Clinic, where she now serves, in 2012.
Aware of the potential impact both legal services attorneys and pro bono attorneys could have on the 8 in 10 challenge, Sarah immediately set out to build relationships with Philadelphia’s legal community. She saw Philadelphia VIP as a particularly important partner: “I’ve always been a big VIP fan. I appreciate the support of the team and of its volunteers.” The feeling is mutual. Sarah actively seeks out cases and, during her tenure at the Clinic, she and her student advocates have represented over sixty VIP clients.
At the Clinic, Sarah teaches students to interview parents and caretakers, build their cases, and represent clients in Family Court. The Clinic’s high case volume speaks to the importance of its work: “Our intake phone rings all day long,” Sarah says. And the benefits of the Clinic’s model flow both ways: students gain experience in a challenging legal area, and clients go to Court with someone in their corner.
Sarah acknowledges that family law cases can be emotionally taxing; yet, as she often points out to her students, when you represent a low-income client in Family Court, you fulfill a need few others can.
“The work is difficult, but we, as attorneys, can help people navigate the most difficult experiences of their lives. It’s amazing to be the person who helps someone through that.”