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Cornell University

Cornell Defender Program

The Cornell Defender Program (CDP), is a collaborative initiative between the Cornell Office of Academic Diversity Initiatives, Cornell's Pre-Professional Programs,* Cornell Law School's Office of Public Service, Cornell Career Services, the New York State Office of Indigent Legal Services and the Office of Assigned Counsel for Tompkins County. 

CDP’s mission is to support New York state in its efforts to ensure that all New Yorkers have equal access to quality representation, by engaging the talented pool of students at Cornell University and Cornell Law School who seek meaningful public service and dynamic career development.

Participants in this program will engage in a ten-week summer experience comprising a two-week intensive training session and an eight-week internship.

During the 2020 summer pilot program, lawyers, judges, investigators, service providers, advocates and career development experts from around New York State, and the United States, contributed over seventy hours of online instruction and discussion. Topics ranged from procedural and evidentiary rules and issues in criminal and family law matters to investigative techniques, document drafting and alternatives to incarceration. Special emphasis was placed on holistic and interdisciplinary practices which place the client at the center of the representation.

Undergraduate students were then paired with law students and assigned to one or more local trial lawyers in Tompkins County, NY who represent indigent individuals. Under the supervision of attorneys, students engaged in virtual internships involving case investigation, factual and legal research, and sentence mitigation, among other client-focused activities. Students also observed and participated in hearings and other courtroom matters. Learn more about the 2020 experience.

Our successful pilot could lead to expansion of the CDP to include more students and to assist lawyers in serving more clients in 2021 and beyond. Students, lawyers, educators, and others interested in the CDP are encouraged to contact Greg Foster, gjf48@cornell.edu or Kristin Dade, kbd44@cornell.edu

*P3 is a programming initiative supporting underrepresented and low-income students pursuing careers in STEM and the licensed professions and is funded by NYS’s Collegiate Science Technology Entry Program (CSTEP) grant.