Criminal Defense and Reentry Clinic

LW.10051 / LW.10536
Professor Vincent Southerland (Spring only)
Open to 3L and 2L students
Maximum of 8 students

See combined Criminal and Juvenile Defender Clinic for 2024-25
14 credits*
Pre- or Co-requisite: Evidence. Criminal Procedure or Criminal Litigation are recommended.


The Criminal Defense and Reentry Clinic will be offered to 8 students as a year-long, 14-credit fieldwork course and seminar. Students should expect to devote 12-15 hours per week to their fieldwork.

The clinic allows students to explore the ways that defenders can provide holistic representation to clients charged with criminal offenses. It will also examine ways that defenders can work to address broad, pressing issues in the criminal legal system. Using an interdisciplinary approach engaging matters of racial and social justice, students will be expected to assess ways that defender offices can be more grounded in, and work on behalf of,  the communities from which their clients come and to which they will return. In addition, the clinic will examine and work to foster change, reform, and transformation in criminal legal systems through various forms of advocacy in New York City and other jurisdictions. The clinic will engage that work in collaboration with a range of stakeholders, including clients, community-based organizations, advocates, and others.

Course Description


Students will have the unique opportunity to be embedded in two of the premier criminal defense offices in New York City. Students will be assigned to work in two offices: Brooklyn Defender Services (BDS) and the Bronx office of the Legal Aid Society Criminal Defense Practice. Students will work with lawyers directly on criminal matters facing clients.  That work will involve intake, investigation, advocacy at arraignments, working with clients and witnesses, legal research and representation of clients in adult court. In addition, at BDS, the students will have the opportunity to continue working with the Brooklyn Adolescent Representation Division (BARD), a special unit that advocates on behalf of young people in the adult system. In both the Bronx and Brooklyn, the clinic will look to address common reentry issues that clients face in criminal court.

In previous years, fieldwork has included the following:

  • Working with clients and witnesses in the preparation of defenses to criminal charges.

  • Conducting component parts of trials and pretrial hearings.

  • Legal research in preparation for matters that arise in criminal cases.

  • Client interviews in preparation for arraignment hearings.

  • Presenting arguments regarding release and bail at arraignment hearings.
  • Working with clients to obtain certificates of relief from disabilities and certificates of good conduct where appropriate.

  • Devising and implementing a comprehensive legal needs assessment to determine the services a neighborhood-based defender office should provide.

  • Devising and conducting a study of remand practices in juvenile court in New York City.

  • Advocating, in coalition with other community-based providers, for the use of alternatives to incarceration and bail reform.

  • Advocating for other policies that facilitate the reentry of individuals returning to their communities.

  • Engaging in advocacy focused on parole justice in New York.

The Seminar

The seminar will examine various conceptions of the role of the defender office in an effort to develop and embrace a vision that treats individual representation as the primary, but not sole responsibility of a defender office. Students will be introduced to approaches that attempt to move defender offices toward more community-based, activist roles in the political and justice systems. Students will explore the range of roles that defenders can play in advocating for their clients and client communities. They will be exposed to principles of problem-identification and problem-solving as theoretical constructs. Then, through case studies of individual representation, outreach, education and organizing initiatives, students will closely examine ambitions, methods and achievements in light of those theories. The interdisciplinary approach of the seminar is designed to encourage students to share ideas and theories across disciplines as a means of developing stronger analytical, consensus-building and leadership skills. The seminar will also focus on the animating principles and forces that undergird the criminal legal system, including the ways in which race, inequality, and identity shape experiences and outcomes for all who the system touches.

The seminar will provide a forum for a collaborative effort with staff from local defender offices, advocacy groups, and community members to begin the process of moving beyond the defender's constitutional mandate to represent individual clients charged with crimes toward a role that involves greater participation in the larger community aimed at structural and institutional change. The seminar will analyze various policy roles that defender offices might begin to assume. Students will examine the tendency of traditional defender offices to isolate themselves from the larger community and will attempt to determine whether and how these offices might become more actively involved with client communities, the media and others in position of influence to shape and advance an agenda on behalf of defenders' client base. In the context of exploring the varied roles that public defenders can play, the seminar will also engage with the tension and relationship between public defense, reform, and abolition.

The seminar will include simulations, materials to expose students to various forms of advocacy, and discrete advocacy opportunities. Lawyers who represent individuals charged in the criminal legal system need to have a varied arsenal at their disposal. The seminar will expose students to media advocacy, legislative advocacy, and community advocacy. Students will explore ways to develop facts and frame issues, collaborate with staff and communities, and evaluate the effectiveness of the strategies that have been developed. Class discussions will examine the differences between - and interrelationship of - individual and group representation, informal and formal advocacy, and litigation and non-litigation strategies.

Application Procedure

Please submit your clinic application, resume and unofficial transcript through CAMS, the online application system. Admissions will be based on the written application and an interview. If you have any questions, please contact Isha Rodriguez at 212-998-6446 or via email.

Student Contacts

Julia Bodson
Rachel Bronkema
Olivia Fritz
Alijah Futterman
Kaya Lawrence
Kendell Long
Cleo Nevakivi-Callanan
Susannah Waldman

* 14 credits include 3 clinical credits and 4 academic seminar credits per semester.