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Cornell Defender Program Launches

By Greg Foster, JD; Assistant Director & Career Development Manager, Pre-Law and Pre-Grad Advisor at Cornell Career Services

On Monday, June 8, the Cornell Defender Program (CDP) will set in motion a pilot program designed to help students gain an understanding of the legal system and support New York State efforts to ensure high-quality advocacy for indigent individuals who are accused of criminal activity or are facing loss of parental rights. CDP, 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, will tap into our talented pool of students at Cornell University and Cornell Law School who seek meaningful public service and dynamic career development. 

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

Lawyers, judges, investigators, service providers, advocates and career development experts from around New York State, and the United States, will contribute to over fifty hours of online instruction and discussion. Topics will range from procedural and evidentiary rules and issues in criminal and family law matters to investigative techniques, document drafting and alternatives to incarceration. Special emphasis will be placed on holistic and interdisciplinary practices which place the client at the center of the representation.

Undergraduate students will then be paired with law students and assigned to one or more local trial lawyers in Tompkins County, New York who represent indigent individuals. Under the supervision of attorneys, students will engage in virtual internships involving case investigation, factual and legal research, and sentence mitigation, among other client-focused activities. Students will also observe and participate in hearings and other courtroom matters.

A successful pilot could lead to expansion of the CDP to include more students and to assist lawyers in serving more clients. Students, lawyers, educators and others interested in the CDP are encouraged to contact Greg Foster at

*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.