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Criminal Defense and Reentry Clinic

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

Year-long course
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 in collaboration with community groups and their clients to address broad, pressing issues in the criminal justice system. Using an interdisciplinary approach, students will be expected to assess ways that defender offices can be more grounded in the communities from which their clients come and to which they will return. In addition, the clinic will examine and work to make reform recommendations regarding current policies in the New York City criminal justice system.

Course Description


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 have the unique opportunity to be embedded in two of the premier criminal defense offices in New York City.  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, and legal research 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.

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

  • Appearances in court in arraignment hearings.

  • Making Bail Arguments.

  • 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.

The Seminar

The seminar will examine various conceptions of the role of the defender office in an effort to begin developing 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 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. The seminar will explore 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.

The seminar will include simulations and materials to expose students to various forms of advocacy. Lawyers who represent individuals charged in the criminal justice system need to have a varied arsenal at their disposal. The seminar will expose to 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. If you have any questions, please contact Isha Rodriguez at 212-998-6446 or via email.

Student Contacts

Karen Brill
Kendall Cox
Melissa Crook
Amelie Daigle
David Jacobs
Stephanie Kerr
Christopher Alan Livingston
Kate McMurchie
Rebecca Orleans

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