Kate Duncan Butler Wins 2013 Howard C. Schwab Memorial Essay Contest

Photograph: Kate Duncan ButlerKate Duncan Butler, '13, won first place in the 2013 Howard C. Schwab Memorial Essay Contest with her essay "Dramatic Leaps in the Right Direction: Protecting Physically Disabled Parents in Child Welfare Law."

Butler is the third Washburn Law student to win one of the top three prizes in the contest, joining the ranks of Kate Lynch, '92, and Lauren Douglass, '09.

The essay has been selected for publication in the Fall 2013 issue of Family Law Quarterly. Consideration for publication was one of the first-place prizes. Other first-place prizes included a cash prize, a one-year complimentary ABA Section of Family Law membership, and consideration of the essay's publication on the ABA Section of Family Law website.

The objective of the contest is to generate increased interest in the field of family law among all law students, and particularly the Law Student Division of the American Bar Association.

Butler was an intern at the Douglas County District Attorney's office, working their child in need of care docket, which she said inspired the essay.

"Basically, my essay discussed the interplay between the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 'hidden' physical disabilities (i.e. those physical disabilities beyond blindness/deafness/being wheelchair bound) and the termination of parental rights stage of child welfare cases," Butler said. "In a nutshell, the paper discussed five things: (1) the general requirements of both child welfare law and the ADA when looking at parents with disabilities, (2) case law throughout the states dealing with whether the ADA applies to the termination of parental rights, (3) the pros and cons of raising an ADA argument when a parent-client is facing the termination of their parental rights, and (4) best practices for agencies and attorneys dealing with parents with disabilities. A number of states have case law that says you can't raise the ADA at the parental rights termination stage--which is the last step in the process, basically--and so the essay tried to weigh whether it's a good idea to try and how to protect parents beyond just raising the ADA as a last-ditch defense.

"If it wasn't for my experiences in LARW and on the Washburn Law Journal, I probably never would have gained the confidence to submit the paper in the first place. I was an English major (and English teacher) before coming to Washburn but I found the entire legal writing process daunting when I first came to law school. It wasn't until the LARW program and then further practicing my skills as a journal staff writer and then an editor that I really trusted my own legal writing and researching skills.

"I loved that Washburn Law put an emphasis on writing because I love writing--I write for fun as well as academically and at my job--and am always looking for ways to improve my writing skills. And since so much of a lawyer's work is done on paper, I think that's really important."

The annual contest is conducted by the ABA Section of Family Law and was established by the Toledo Bar Association and the Ohio Bar Foundation as a memorial to Howard C. Schwab. Schwab served as a president of the Toledo Bar Association and chairman of the Family Law Committee of the Ohio Bar Association. He was serving as chairman-elect of the Section of Family Law at the time of his death in 1969. More about the contest can be viewed at the American Bar Association website.