Criminal Defense Clinic
In the Criminal Defense Clinic, students represent defendants in one of the nation’s busiest municipal courts. Each student serves as lead counsel for several clients, interviewing those defendants, independently investigating the facts, developing a case strategy, reviewing options with the client, and resolving the case through plea negotiation or trial. Two faculty members supervise the students’ work, offering guidance on individual cases and instruction on professional skills.
To complement the students’ individual client work, the clinic meets as a group twice a week. Group sessions allow students to discuss their cases in “rounds,” sharing their experiences with classmates and learning from one another. Group sessions also include visits from practicing attorneys, discussion of ethical issues, skills training, and analysis of the policies that animate the criminal justice system. Immersion in the daily practice of criminal defense brings ethical and policy issues alive.
Working directly with clients to resolve a pressing legal matter is invaluable to a budding lawyer, and the Criminal Defense Clinic provides that experience. Some students use the training to move directly to careers in criminal defense or prosecution. Others find that the fact-gathering skills, practical knowledge, problem-solving abilities, negotiation tactics, and ethical sensitivity improve their practice readiness for other areas of law.
“I am so grateful that the first time that I represented a client, the first time that I was responsible for someone’s liberty, was in law school where I had an experienced professor there for guidance,” Ranya Elzein, a 3L, said. “That’s the real benefit of clinics. You practice as a real attorney; you have all of the responsibility; but you have the safety net of a professor or practitioner there to guide you. It amazes me that so many new, young lawyers will go to work at prosecutor or public defender offices where they will be responsible for a high volume of cases from the get-go without ever handling a case on their own before. That’s where the rich benefit of clinics comes into play.”