From freeing individual clients to reforming the legal system, the work of the CWC is revolutionary. Says Steven Drizin, CWC legal director and associate director of the Bluhm Legal Clinic, "We take clients out of abject misery and return them to the streets, free." Drizin continues that "perhaps most transformative is seeing how it affects our students, the passion they bring to the work, the ways in which their world views change from when we first get them… seeing them come up with remarkably creative legal strategies that some of us who have been involved in the game for a long time didn't think of ourselves."
In addition to gaining a theoretical foundation through classroom work, CWC students gain real-world, practical skills. Side by side with CWC and pro-bono attorneys, they re-investigate crimes: tracking down witnesses, taking crime-scene photos, questioning detectives, poring through forensic reports. They meet with clients, draft briefs, argue cases, and advocate tirelessly, asking for appeals, presenting before prison review boards, and submitting requests for certificates of innocence. Says Drizin, "These are foundational experiences that thoroughly prepare students for jobs after graduation."
Internships for Undergraduate Students
In addition to providing life-changing legal experiences for Northwestern Law students, the CWC has built an internship program for undergraduate students interested in issues relating to wrongful convictions. "In the summer, CWC hosts as many as 20 full-time interns from colleges around the country and, in the past few years, we have also had students from the United Kingdom," says Dolores Kennedy, coordinator of the Center's internship program.
"In addition to assisting with the Center's research and casework, (it was interns who began the research required to build the online National Registry of Exonerations database), the students hear compelling speakers, including many of our exonerees, view documentaries on wrongful convictions, attend trials and clemency hearings, tour a halfway reentry community and the Juvenile Detention Center." The year-round intern program is a credit course to students from Northwestern University's Chicago Field Studies program.
"I was given the opportunity to work closely with witnesses, convicted individuals, and those advocating for them. I got to research and write about genuinely interesting legal issues. I got to see a torturer brought to justice and an innocent man released from prison." Brett Mares, former CWC intern