Federal Defender Clinic

LW.10783 / LW.10767
Professor Christopher A. Flood
Professor Marne Lenox
Open to 2L and 3L students
Maximum of 12 students

Year-long course
14 credits*
Prerequisites: Criminal Procedure and either  Evidence or a trial advocacy course**


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 (EDNY) 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 this 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.

Course Description


The FDC provides client-centered representation for people charged with federal misdemeanors and petty offenses in the EDNY, 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 is represented the by number of different law enforcement agencies usually present at POD, such as the United States Park Police, the United States Army, the Veteran’s Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Homeland Security and the United States Postal Service.

Clinic fieldwork encompasses all aspects of defending clients who have been accused of federal offenses. Beginning at POD, under close faculty supervision, clinic students assume the primary duties of representation. These duties include interviewing, advising, and counseling clients, researching and investigating allegations, developing defenses, and fashioning an effective mitigation presentation from available information. Often, the most favorable outcomes may be gained through negotiations with prosecutors and law enforcement agency representatives. In some cases, trial before a federal magistrate is the client’s best course. Clinic students extensively prepare for either possibility by developing facts through witness interviews, formal and informal discovery requests, and motions practice.

As attorneys for their clients, clinic students must conform their practice to the New York Rules of Professional Conduct (NYRPC), and will develop a well-informed understanding of the practical obligations the NYRPC imposes. In the course of representation, students work to identify and appropriately respond to the particular interests each client expresses, and are responsible for developing a sound professional relationship with each client, one that promotes mutual respect, effective communication, and creates meaningful opportunities for each client to define the goals of the representation. In collaboration with fellow clinic students and faculty, students devise and implement strategies to best achieve these goals through basic litigation tasks like obtaining informal discovery or more creative measures like novel motions practice. Students also identify the potential collateral consequences of each course of action, and where possible will ensure that any resolution avoids those harms.

Students maintain for each client a comprehensive memorandum combining pertinent legal research, an investigative agenda, and an analysis of the salient issues the case presents. Students may be required to perform moderate to extensive additional writing, depending on the needs of their clients. No favorable resolution can be guaranteed, and those cases not settled through negotiation proceed to formal court hearings and bench trials before federal Magistrate Judges. Students handle all aspects of courtroom litigation, including witness preparation, motion practice, direct and cross-examinations, opening and closing statements, and legal arguments. How many trials, motions hearings, or sentencings the clinic conducts each year is also subject to the interests of affected clients. Therefore, clinic students are not guaranteed participation in a trial or otherwise contested hearing. However, over the course of the academic year, FDC students have multiple opportunities to gain technical skill and practical experience while conforming to the highest standards of practice and professional ethics.

In addition to representing clients in 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. Felony fieldwork includes but is not limited to: helping felony attorneys prepare for trials, sentencings and contested hearings, through drafting motions, sentencing letters and memoranda on important legal issues, as well as attending client meetings and arraignment shifts.


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 standards. The early weeks of the fall semester are devoted to developing foundational interviewing skills, negotiating techniques, and effective 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. To ensure an appropriate level of preparation, students may be asked to devote time to one or more additional training sessions during the boot camp period which will be scheduled before the start of the fall semester. Over the course of the fall semester, topics progress through the major components of federal criminal practice including client-centered communication and counseling, investigations, discovery, plea bargaining, motion practice, and sentencing. The spring semester focuses on the development of students’ facility with evidentiary standards, courtroom skills, and strategic trial preparation. Most skill and competency-building exercises are based on a fact pattern simulating issues common to many petty offense cases. The fact pattern is introduced in the fall semester continues to be used through the spring semester. A simulated suppression hearing and a full simulated trial, based on this fact pattern, are conducted in the fall and spring semesters, respectively.

Qualifications for Applicants

Second-year and third-year students are eligible to take this clinic. Students should have taken, or be able to take concurrently with the clinic, Criminal Procedure and either Evidence or a trial advocacy or litigation course.

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.

Application Procedure

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, you may contact the adjunct professor Christopher Flood via email  or adjunct professor Amanda David via email.

Student Contacts

Students are strongly encouraged to speak with current members of the clinic:

Kenneth Brown
Pooja Goel
Maya Goldman
Jared Hirsch
Rose Kent
Jessi LaChance
Nathan Small
Alec Soghomonian
Rob Solmssen
Leah Seans-Gail
Miriam Thorne
Susannah Waldman

* 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 them concurrently with the clinic.