An effort to place young, talented law graduates into public defender offices throughout the South is gaining steam.
Two of Chicago’s premier law schools announced this month that they are joining forces with Gideon’s Promise—an Atlanta nonprofit that trains and advocates for public defenders throughout the South—to pay for graduates to work on indigent legal defense for up to a year.
The University of Chicago Law School and Northwestern University School of Law are the fourth and fifth schools, respectively, to sign on to the organization’s Law School Partnership Project. The effort was announced in November with the American University Washington College of Law; University of California at Los Angeles School of Law; and New York University School of Law.
Each school has agreed to pay the salary of one or more new graduates in a southern public defender office, and that office in turn pledges to hire the graduate full-time within a year. The project is intended to make it easier for public defenders to hire new lawyers while creating a smoother path to those jobs for students.
According to the organizers, the public defender offices typically lack resources to make job offers while candidates are still in law school, as law firms do.
“From any perspective, this project is a win-win proposition,” said Susan Curry, director of public interest law and policy at the University of Chicago 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.”
Northwestern Law Dean Daniel Rodriguez wrote on his personal blog that his school would place as many as three students per year through Gideon’s Promise.
“In honor of the 50th anniversary of Gideon v. Wainwright, the landmark Supreme Court decision establishing the right to counsel in criminal proceedings, Northwestern Law is proud to announce the creation of the Gideon’s Promise Fellowship Program,” he wrote.
The fellows will receive three years of training and mentorship through the organization’s “Core 101″ program, which emphasizes legal skills and the values of public defense. That effort got a boost in October with a $1 million grant by the U.S. Department of Justice.
Gideon’s Promise president and founder Jonathan Rapping has said he hopes to have as many as 20 law schools onboard in the coming years.