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Law students work for social justice in the real world

John Grisham

Author John Grisham, at the College of Law's 175th anniversary in 2008, showed his support of the students work. Read more about his visit at the bottom of the page.

Celebrating 175 years with John Grisham

To celebrate the College of Law's 175th anniversary in January 2008, Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland and 1,000 other guests turned out at a gala featuring legal novelist John Grisham and Emmy-winning alumnus sportscaster Cris Collinsworth, JD '91. Grisham, who wrote his first nonfiction book, "The Innocent Man," in 2007, made an impassioned plea for people to support the Ohio Innocence Project, for which he is a national board member. Earlier in the day, he had participated in an interactive meeting with the entire student body of the college -- the first law school west of the Alleghenies and the fourth-oldest continuously operating law school in the country.


Social justice fuels UC law students' work with real clients,
ability to argue cases, ultimately free prisoners

by Deborah Rieselman

The opportunity to stand up for social justice is drawing more and more students to the University of Cincinnati College of Law.

"More of our students come in with an interest in seeing justice done, seeing right prevail," said former associate dean Barbara Watts, MA (Ed) '69, JD '78. "They're eager to roll up their sleeves and begin doing the right thing."

Roughly 27 percent of upper-class law students participate in the optional real-world experiences, Watts estimated. "They feel good about helping people while they're learning. It's a lot of work, but it's compelling, engaging work. And it's amazing to see how devoted they become."

The state of Ohio allows third-year law students to work with real clients under direct supervision of an attorney. The College of Law offers its students three types of real-client experiences:

Domestic Relations/Domestic Violence Clinic -- UC students represent clients seeking relief from domestic violence or legal assistance with child support, child custody and visitation. The clinic is operated in partnership with the Legal Aid Society of Greater Cincinnati.

Appellate Practice Clinic -- Possibly the first program of its kind in the Midwest, the clinic lets student teams spend a year working on appeal cases for indigent defendants and argue before the court. The firm Squires, Sanders and Dempsey pays for attorney Pierre Bergeron to work with the students one day a week. In 2005, the students won a motion to keep an immigrant from being deported while his appeal was pending. The appellate clinic lasts a year so students "see all the aspects of the appeal from beginning to the end," Bergeron says. "It's kind of daunting when you first take a case on appeal. I don't want the students to be intimidated. I want them to be comfortable with the whole process."

OIP logo

The Innocence Project -- The national program works to exonerate the wrongfully convicted through post-conviction DNA testing and evidence that can conclusively prove innocence. The Ohio Innocence Project, based at UC, was founded in 2003, at a time that Ohio statistically had one of the largest prison populations without access to an Innocence Project. Funded entirely through private donations, the project provides the kind of legal experience unmatched in the classroom or on most jobs available to law students.

Initially, 19 students began working full time on the project over a summer, screening more than 250 requests from prisoners, then selecting six cases for complete investigation based upon the possibility of introducing new evidence to exonerate the prisoners, such as DNA testing or digital enhancement of old video films. During the school year, work continued on a part-time basis for class credit under the direction of Mark Godsey, UC professor and former federal prosecutor.

 

New state standards

On a broader scale, two years of UC law students' research paved the way for groundbreaking reform in wrongful convictions in 2010. In April of that year, Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland signed into law Senate Bill 77, which sets statewide standards for retaining biological evidence, requires the taking of DNA in felony arrests and requires new procedures for police lineups.

 

Celebrating 175 years with John Grisham

To celebrate the College of Law's 175th anniversary in January 2008, Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland and 1,000 other guests turned out at a gala featuring legal novelist John Grisham and Emmy-winning alumnus sportscaster Cris Collinsworth, JD '91. Grisham, who wrote his first nonfiction book, "The Innocent Man," in 2007, made an impassioned plea for people to support the Ohio Innocence Project, for which he is a national board member. Earlier in the day, he had participated in an interactive meeting with the entire student body of the college -- the first law school west of the Alleghenies and the fourth-oldest continuously operating law school in the country.