Law School Partners with Gideon’s Promise for Public Defender Fellowships

Law School Partners with Gideon’s Promise for Public Defender Fellowships
Communications Office
December 19, 2013

The University of Chicago Law School is joining forces with the Gideon’s Promise Law School Partnership Project (LSPP) to help strengthen under-resourced public defender offices across the South. As part of this alliance, the Law School will begin funding post-graduate fellowships for placement among the nine Gideon’s Promise partner offices dedicated to indigent defense reform.

The Law School will provide funding for a post-graduate fellowship with one of the public defender offices working with Gideon’s Promise, and the office will guarantee the student a full time job after completion of the fellowship.

The Project from Gideon’s Promise, an Atlanta-based nonprofit organization dedicated to assuring that every individual receives adequate legal representation regardless of economic status, helps meet critical needs of public defender offices. The unique fellowship opportunity with a guaranteed job will provide a pathway for Chicago students to begin careers in this field, despite the resource constraints affecting public defender offices throughout nation, and especially in the South.  It resolves a common problem for graduates interested in becoming public defenders. With the fellowship funding, the public defender office will be able to make the participating student a job offer in time to take the bar; the student can start work before the bar results are in and not face the prospect of switching jobs after the fellowship ends.

“We are thrilled to participate in the LSPP program with Gideon’s Promise,” said Michael H. Schill, Dean of the Law School and Harry N. Wyatt Professor of Law. “We are opening up new opportunities for our graduates in under-served communities, while meeting an important Law School commitment to provide equal access to justice.”

The Law School is among the first in the country to participate in the Law School Partnership Project, joining the University of California at Los Angeles, American University, and New York University. The graduate fellows will also receive the Gideon’s Promise signature Core 101 training: a three-year program that offers tools to provide meaningful representation to public clients under difficult circumstances and learn strategies to resist pressures to adapt to the status quo (quickly processing defendants through the system). 

“I am thoroughly encouraged by the reception of our program from such exceptional law schools committed to partnering in the quest for equal justice,” said Jonathan Rapping, president and founder of Gideon’s Promise. “To have such a high caliber school as the University of Chicago as one of our initial partners underscores the need for bridging this critical gap.”

“From any perspective, this project is a win-win proposition,” said Susan J. Curry, Director of Public Interest Law and Policy at the Law School. “This program targets a region of the nation that is most depleted of its defender resources, while combining financial support, skills training, and career development opportunities to graduating law students who have committed to careers in indigent defense."

Gideon’s Promise aims to expand the program to include at least 20 law schools, 20 defender offices and place 20 law students in their public service careers by 2016. The LSPP has received high praise from the U.S. Department of Justice, which recently awarded the organization a grant to assist with training costs for incoming Partnership fellows.

“For our students, this fellowship will enable those who dream of becoming public defenders to join a highly trained corps of young lawyers serving some of the neediest communities in the country,” said Alison Siegler, Director of the Federal Criminal Justice Clinic at the Law School.

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The University of Chicago Law School was founded in 1902 with the objective of creating a new kind of law school, professional in its purpose, but with a broader outlook than was then prevalent in the leading American law schools. Located on a residential campus in one of America's great cities, Chicago offers a rigorous and interdisciplinary professional education that blends the study of law with the humanities, the social sciences, and the natural sciences.
Gideon’s Promise is an organization dedicated to assuring that every individual receives adequate legal representation regardless of economic status as mandated in the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case Gideon vs. Wainwright (355 US, 1963). Through continuing education, ongoing mentorships and strategic partnerships; the organization gives public defenders the tools they need to provide the highest quality public defense in their communities. At the base of the organization’s outreach is its signature Core 101 program, a three-year training program which arms public defenders with the skills and tools necessary to challenge the culture of simply processing defendants through the system. Additional programs and outreach include the Graduate 201 training program, the Summer Law Clerk program, the Leadership Program for chief defenders, the Trainer Development program for public defender trainers, supervisors and law school clinicians and the Law School Partnership Project.  Gideon’s Promise has grown from 16 lawyers trained at inception to nearly 250, each working with an annual average of 200 clients. The organization was featured recently in an HBO documentary, “Gideon’s Army.” For more information, visit www.gideonspromise.org, Facebook.com/GideonsPromise or Twitter: @Gideons_Promise.

Faculty: 
Michael H. Schill
Faculty: 
Susan J. Curry
Faculty: 
Alison Siegler