Criminal Justice Reform and the District Attorney Externship

LW.12680/ LW.12681
Professor Tali Farhadian Weinstein
Professor Courtney M. Oliva
Open to 3L and 2L students
Maximum of 8 students in the externship. 12 additional students admitted to the seminar only.
Not offered 2019-20
4 credits*
Prerequisite: Criminal Law

Course Description

This four-credit course introduces and exposes students to the power of the district attorney as a policymaker and leader in the criminal justice system. The course takes as its starting point the growing recognition that prosecutors are actors who can use their power to reform the criminal justice system. By way of background, a recent wave of newly-elected district attorneys across the nation have committed themselves to rethinking their offices’ approach to prosecution and implementing new practices that are, whenever possible, evidence-based, rooted in local community priorities, consistent with transparency and accountability, and focused on promoting trust in the justice system. One such elected prosecutor is the Kings County (Brooklyn) District Attorney. In early 2018, the District Attorney convened a diverse group of criminal justice stakeholders and experts—including defense counsel, former justice-involved people, policymakers, community leaders, and academics—in a joint effort to make reform recommendations to the Office. In the fall of 2018, the District Attorney unveiled and adopted these recommendations, known as “Justice 2020.” The seminar and externship will draw principally (though not exclusively) from Justice 2020’s reform recommendations.


Up to 8 students can participate in the externship, which is separate from, but complementary to, the seminar. These students will immerse themselves in the policymaking aspect of a prosecutor’s office by working directly on certain Justice 2020 and other related reforms. The fieldwork on these projects will consist of a minimum of 7 hours per week. Each student will be assigned a given reform project and will work under the supervision of an Executive Sponsor (a senior member of the Executive Staff who reports directly to the District Attorney), and an Initiative Manager (an office leader with day-to-day management responsibilities for the project).

Externship students will work directly on implementing their policy project in the office. Assignments will include drafting internal memoranda on best practices in a given topic, conducting further research on their assigned policy reform, designing specific plans for implementing their policy project, and flagging any legal, ethical, or cultural issues that may arise during the implementation process, and to present their projects to the rest of the class during the seminar portion. Externship students will also be asked to support and lead discussions with any guest lecturers who were involved in Justice 2020.


Along with the 8 externship students, 12 additional students will be admitted to the seminar, for a total enrolment of 20. The seminar will study the Justice 2020 subjects and confront the legal, ethical, organizational, and cultural concerns that arise when prosecutors attempt to change the way their offices have traditionally handled investigations and prosecutions. We will build on and examine the fieldwork done by students in the externship as we discuss the challenges of implementing policy work in real time while still upholding a public safety mission. The readings will familiarize students with the contours of each reform subject, and we will use these subjects to discuss how the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office is enacting these reforms, what strategies are being used to create “buy in,” and the challenges that students see in enacting reforms, whether from within the Office or from outside groups, such as the defense bar, community leaders, and/or other criminal justice system actors.

Application Procedure

Students interested in applying for the clinic should submit the standard application, resume, and transcript online through CAMS. To arrange an interview, please use the CAMS system as well. If you have questions regarding the application procedure, please contact Susan Hodges.

Student Contacts

This course is being offered for the first time in Spring 2019, so there are no student contacts.

* 4 credits include 2 clinical credits for the externship and 2 academic seminar credits.