GENESEO –Geneseo native and attorney Elizabeth Vander Wal says that advocating for children’s right in court is more than her career, it’s her passion.
When the Appellate Division of the Fourth Department of the New York State Supreme Court recently awarded Vander Wal for distinguished service to the Attorneys for Children Program, she said that the real reward is in the work itself.
“I love it, I find a lot of fulfillment in it,” said Vander Wal, now in her 14th year of practice. “I get very emotionally attached to the kids, which is both a plus and a minus. It makes my plate very full, but dealing with cases of neglect, abuse, juvenile delinquency…these are difficult times in my clients’ lives. Sometimes their parents break up or they get into big trouble. Attorneys for Children advocate for the child’s position just like an adult client.”
Not every Attorney for Children is even eligible to win this award. Judges nominate about 800 attorneys per year, and then a panel of legal professionals selects a handful of winners. This year, the Fourth Department awarded six attorneys, including Vander Wal.
Livingston County Judge Robert Wiggins and Wyoming County Judge Michael Griffith nominated Vander Wal. She primarily practices in these two counties and is on the panel in Monroe County.
“I was surprised to hear it, it’s a great honor,” said Vander Wal. “They pick attorneys who are able to and want to go above and beyond in building rapport and advocating for young clients.”
The work is always sensitive and often challenging. Cases are handled in family court, and clients are sometimes babies who cannot articulate their wishes.
“If the client is an infant, they don’t have a position or can’t articulate it, and Attorneys for Children have to advocate for what they believe is in the child’s best interests,” said Vander Wal. “In tough cases, we have to argue against DSS.”
Vander Wal continues to advocate for child clients from Dawson & Vanderwal LLP at 129 Main Street, Geneseo.