LW.10783 / LW.10767
Students in the Federal Defender Clinic (FDC) have been providing representation for indigent clients accused of misdemeanor offenses in the Eastern District of New York for over twenty-five years. Seminar hours are devoted to examining the unique system of federal petty offenses through critical comparison to larger trends in the criminal justice system, to exploring the ethical foundations of holistic representation and client-centered advocacy, and to building the necessary skills required to effectively litigate on behalf of the clients the clinic serves. Students spend approximately ten Tuesday mornings in Brooklyn federal court representing people accused of violating federal law. Fieldwork hours are focused on casework. Under supervision, FDC students handle every aspect of defending clients against a criminal accusation, from the initial interview and settlement discussion, through investigations, negotiations, discovery, motions practice, and where necessary, hearings, trial, sentencing, and appeal.
The FDC provides client-centered representation for people charged with federal misdemeanors and petty offenses in the Eastern District of New York, and who appear either in response to summons or voluntarily at the Brooklyn Federal Courthouse on regularly-scheduled “Petty Offense Day” (POD). The range of accusations encompassed within the ambit of federal misdemeanors and petty offenses is broad, as represented the by the law enforcement agencies usually present at POD such as – the United States Park Police, the United States Army, the Veteran’s Administration, the Department of Homeland Security and the United States Postal Service.
Clinic fieldwork includes interviewing and counseling clients, investigating facts, developing legal and factual defenses, and negotiating with prosecutors and law enforcement agency representatives to obtain favorable outcomes. For those cases that are not resolved at the initial appearance day, students conduct thorough legal research, draft a comprehensive memorandum presenting the salient issues and plan an agenda for action, including investigation and witness interviews, discovery requests, and likely motions. Ongoing client counseling guides student efforts to identify and respond to the particular interests of each client, and to ensure that the agenda meaningfully reflects the client’s needs. Ethical duties are stressed throughout the process, and students work to include space for the client’s voice and viewpoint. Good client relationships make for effective lawyering. High-quality communication and an attorney-client relationship founded on trust impact even basic litigation tasks like obtaining discovery or devising creative motions, but also lead to more holistic measures like identifying avoidable collateral consequences of a conviction. Depending on the allegations, to advance their client’s interests, moderate to extensive writing may be required, as students may conduct multiple client interviews, perform significant independent legal research and investigate factual allegations, all of which are documented in a case analysis memorandum. Cases not settled are taken to formal court hearings and bench trials before federal Magistrate Judges. Students handle all aspects of the litigation, including witness preparation, motion practice, direct and cross-examinations, opening and closing statements, and legal arguments.
In addition to their misdemeanor cases, clinic students work on federal felony cases through the clinic's affiliation with the Federal Defenders of New York. Students will work directly with experienced Federal Defenders in the Eastern and Southern Districts of New York to help them defend federal felony cases. Research regarding collateral consequences of criminal convictions will be a focus of the 2017-18 clinic felony fieldwork.
The seminar meets two evenings per week for a total of four hours. The seminar involves critical examination and discussion of federal misdemeanors and petty offenses in the context of the larger criminal justice system. Discussion of clinic client work provides a platform for significant insight into greater systemic issues, as well as a doorway into meaningful understanding of professional ethical rules. The early weeks of the fall semester are devoted to developing interviewing and negotiating techniques and strategies to employ during court appearances. During this “boot camp” leading up to the first POD, students conduct mock client interviews and negotiating sessions to prepare for commonly-seen scenarios, and to encounter professional ethics in a seminar environment. Over the course of the fall semester, topics progress through operative components of federal criminal practice including client-centered counseling, investigations, discovery, plea bargaining, motion practice, and other litigation techniques. The spring semester focuses on trial strategies as some cases may head to hearings and trials after Spring Break. During the school year, simulations help build competency in different skills. A simulated suppression hearing and a full simulated trial are conducted on a fact pattern that is introduced in the fall.
Qualifications for Applicants
Second-year and third-year students are eligible to take this clinic. Criminal Procedure, Evidence or a trial advocacy or litigation course is required as a prerequisite. If students have not taken any of these courses, they are expected to take one concurrently with the clinic; Criminal Procedure is the recommended course in that instance.
Credits and Hours
The FDC is a year-long, 14-credit, clinic. We will award three clinical credits and four academic seminar credits each semester.
Particular Scheduling Requirements
In addition to the evening seminar hours, FDC students will be required to attend approximately five court intake days per semester. Accordingly, students will need to be available every Tuesday between 9 AM and 1:30 PM and may not schedule other classes at that time.
Applicants should submit a resume, unofficial transcript, and application using CAMS, the online application system. After submitting their applications, students should sign up for an interview slot through CAMS. If you have any questions, please contact the professors.
Students are strongly encouraged to speak with current members of the clinic:
Martha L. Liskow
* 14 credits include 3 clinical credits and 4 academic seminar credits each semester.
** If students have not taken any of these courses, they are expected to take one concurrently with the clinic; Criminal Procedure is the recommended course in that instance.