Criminal Justice at the University of Minnesota Law School
The current national and global political climates have seen an increase in the need for legal services, representation, and policies for many marginalized groups. It is no surprise then that law schools are seeing an influx of applicants of individuals interested in careers in public service. Many are looking to give back through work in human rights and criminal justice. In response to this need, the University of Minnesota Law School provides numerous opportunities for students to work with leading faculty in these areas and participate in coursework, clinics, and career support that will help to further their goals.
At the Law School, students are able to choose a Criminal Justice Concentration to explore their passion for criminal law. Students on this academic path enroll in a wide variety of core and specialized courses relating to juvenile justice, criminal procedure, sentencing law, and punishing theory. No matter the specific focus of the student in the Criminal Justice Concentration, one can take part in live client clinics and independent research with faculty members. Also available are mentorship opportunities with judges and attorneys who work in criminal justice and policy.
While the seminars and courses in this concentration are largely theoretical, there are also course opportunities in the field. Students can participate in a Public Interest Field Placement, working for credit in a government or nonprofit agency. This hands-on experience helps solidify a student’s understanding of criminal justice work. In these placements, students may represent a client as a Certified Student Attorney, research, draft memos and court documents, observe court proceedings, and provide support for attorneys. Common locations for field placements include public defender offices, nonprofits, and government agencies.
For students looking to dive deeper into a field placement, third-year students may apply for the Minnesota Law Public Interest Residency Program or the Remote Semester Program. The Residency Program matches students with local government and nonprofit employers, with students working full time in criminal justice and public interest work during their third year of law school for credit and staying for a post-graduate fellowship year at the same organization. The Residency Program helps students feel supported and trained while transitioning into full time work. It also ensures the organizations that they are able to have a fully-trained staff member after the bar exam. Current agencies participating in the field of criminal justice include the Minnesota Board of Public Defense, Hennepin County Attorney’s Office, Ramsey County Attorney’s Office and the Minneapolis City Attorney’s Office. In the Remote Semester Program, third-year students can work full time for credit during one semester at a nonprofit or government agency outside of Minnesota.
Another way students are able to get hands-on experience with criminal justice work is through the Law School’s clinical program. The clinics provide help to indigent individuals in a variety of settings and practice areas, all under the supervision of a clinical faculty member. While there are many clinic options at the Law School, there are a particularly large number of clinics in the area of criminal law, including:
The Law School’s Center for New Americans is of particular note. Through the Center, students can take part in the Federal Immigration Litigation Clinic and the Detainee Rights Clinic. They can explore the intersection of asylum and immigration law with criminal law through case supervision, client interviews and communication, legal writing and drafting, oral advocacy, and even client representation in the courtroom. In 2016, students from this group took a case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and won, demonstrating the impact of the clinical program.
The Detainee Rights Clinic allows students to represent clients who face deportation from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Immigrations & Customs Enforcement. These students receive an entire semester of training while first providing intake interviews, research and writing for bond hearings. After this, they are able to take on cases in administrative hearings for clients.
The Robina Institute of Criminal Law and Criminal Justice
Law students often choose to work part time in addition to schoolwork and clinical experiences. The Robina Institute of Criminal Law and Criminal Justice employs several law students as Research Assistants.
Students who have worked as Research Assistants for Robina Institute have supported original research for the Sentencing Guidelines Resource Center, the Profiles in Probation Revocation, a publication created from the Probation Revocation Project, and Profiles in Parole Release and Revocation, published profiles for each state that explores the framework of parole in the U.S. as part of the Parole Release Revocation Project . The Robina Institute provides students with paid opportunities to develop their skills in legal research, writing, and subject matter insights, while also serving society by sharing important research into sentencing laws and criminal justice policies.
The University of Minnesota Law School prepares students with the knowledge and skills necessary for a career in criminal justice, and the Law School’s Career Center connects students with opportunities to practice in criminal justice outside the Law School. Through interview programs, workshops, resources, and individualized career counseling, students can explore criminal justice careers, engage with those employers, and transition to their post-graduate career in the field.
The Career Center hosts on and off campus interview programs to promote summer and postgraduate opportunities for students. In the off campus programs, located in Chicago, DC, New York, and the Bay Area, along with the Minneapolis-based program, there are many participating government employers, including those working in criminal justice. In addition to the Law School’s interview programs, students also interview with criminal justice employers through the Midwest Public Interest Law Career Conference (MPILCC) in Chicago, the Midwest’s largest public interest job fair, and the Equal Justice Works Conference in Washington DC.
Along with interview programs, students are encouraged to explore the Career Center’s job search, job application, interview preparation, professional development, and networking resources. Students can access individualized counseling and interview preparation, review past student surveys on their experiences with specific employers, practice area guides, past employer lists and interview questions, and more.
The Career Center also provides programming to assist students in exploring paths and engaging with employers. In the fall and the spring, the Law School hosts large-scale employer receptions, bringing in many criminal justice employers and other legal employers to meet students. Local and national practitioners also visit the Law School for panels and workshops, along with additional programming from the criminal justice-based student organizations. This year, the Public Interest Team launched Public Interest Lawyering Skills to better prepare students for careers and internships in public service. Developed in response to the needs of alumni in transitioning in to public service careers, the workshops focus on working with marginalized communities and those who have experienced trauma.
Along with individual counseling, programs, and resources, there is a large alumni network base to support students. In any area of law, including criminal justice work, a student can find hundreds of attorneys across the country and the world who provide the services the students hope to pursue. The Career Center has access to these alumni and can help students leverage these connections.
Mentorship programs also play a part in students connecting with attorneys to gain insight into a career in criminal justice. The Career Center has several mentor programs and those interested in criminal justice work are advised to apply for the Minneapolis City Attorney’s Office Mentor Program. Through this program, the Career Center and Minneapolis City Attorney’s Office match students and attorneys based on interest. Students can then observe their mentor in court and ask questions about relevant classwork and the application process. This program often leads to summer positions.
While many summer internships in the criminal justice field are unpaid, the Law School provides support for those on this path. Through the Career Center and Human Rights Center summer fellowship funding, students are funded between $4,000 and $5,000 for summer unpaid work at government agencies and nonprofit organizations. This stipend helps ensure students are able to financially pursue an internship in criminal justice work across the country and develop the skills they need for a life-long career in criminal justice.
Criminal justice work is in need of strong attorneys and leaders. The University of Minnesota Law School provides coursework, experiential opportunities, and career support to usher in a new generation of committed and skilled attorneys to serve the community and the country.
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