Student Opportunities

The Center on Wrongful Convictions and its sister project, the Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth, offer a student experience like none other. Students who participate in our Centers have once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to change lives while building strategic thinking, innovative lawyering, and leadership skills that are portable to any area of practice. The Centers also offer law students an extraordinary opportunity to begin building a professional identity that incorporates social impact into daily practice – including by partnering many of our students with co-counsels from leading law firms around Chicago and the country.  

Northwestern Pritzker School of Law's wrongful convictions clinical program attracts both transactional and litigation students who are eager to develop the following skills: 

Strategic Lawyering

The cases handled by the CWC and CWCY offer some of the purest examples of how the rote application of law to facts can sometimes produce an inefficient or unjust result. In such circumstances – which regularly arise in any area of practice – we teach our students how to lawyer around the law. CWC and CWCY alumni understand that the best lawyers don’t simply apply the law as handed down; rather, the best lawyers are strategic thinkers who can identify paths around legal obstacles that risk leading – and, for our clients, have led – to disastrous results. 

"Professionally, the CWCY has given me extraordinary opportunities to learn from some of the best attorneys around and take on responsibilities most other law students do not. In addition to writing parts of briefs that actually were filed in court, I also participate in cases from start to finish… developing a strategy, filing pleadings, arguing motions, and everything in between."
-- Rebecca Stephens


Getting to Yes: Obtaining Stakeholder and Public Buy-In

Our Centers and students are nationally recognized strategic leaders in efforts to update and reform constitutional criminal law and procedure. For instance, the CWC was a key driver behind the State of Illinois' decision to abolish the death penalty after more than a dozen death row inmates were exonerated – a decision that was announced by the Governor of Illinois at Northwestern Law. Our law students were intensively involved in the underlying strategic campaign that relied on a combination of client storytelling, stakeholder outreach and negotiated buy-in, and public outreach. These fundamental professional skills resonate profoundly in any legal career.

Taking Command of the Narrative

Wrongful convictions occur when the wrong narrative has been accepted as truth. The work of rectifying a wrongful conviction, in turn, is fundamentally about changing the factual narrative – a task made all the more difficult in the face of powerful systemic momentum that favors the pre-existing narrative. Our students receive unparalleled training in re-understanding the existing facts of a case; gathering additional new facts through witness interviews or DNA testing; and then uniting those facts into the most compelling possible narrative of innocence. A CWC or CWCY alum develops an unmatched sense of how to command facts that will serve her well in any arena. 

Incorporating Social Impact Work Into Professional Life

Law firms around the country, as well as their corporate clients, are embracing corporate social responsibility as a central part of their professional commitments and brand identities. This manifests in law firms’ commitments to pro bono work as well as other forms of civic engagement like nonprofit board membership and government service. CWC and CWCY faculty and students work closely with some of the city’s and nation’s most prominent law firms and lawyers – many of whom sit on our Advisory Board – to free wrongly convicted individuals and seek legal reform. We regard our clinics as pathways for law students to begin the process of building a "whole lawyer" professional identity that combines the delivery of professional services with social impact and civic stewardship. 

Clerkship-Ready Appellate Court Experience

Many of our cases unfold in federal court at both the trial and appellate level and in state court at the appellate level. As full participants in these cases, CWC and CWCY students have invaluable opportunities to become familiar with high-level appellate practice far earlier than many other law students. This is of particular benefit to those alumni who intend to seek federal clerkships. Our recent cases have involved both en banc and panel arguments before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, as well as petitions for writs of certiorari before the U.S. Supreme Court and oral arguments before the Illinois Court of Appeals.

 

Coursework

Wrongful Convictions Juvenile Justice Clinic