Northern Illinois University College of Law received at $2,500 grant from the P. Michael Mahoney (Rockford, IL) Chapter of the Federal Bar Association in order to continue its Prisoners’ Rights Project. The project, launched in 2018, is a partnership between the NIU College of Law and the Federal Bar Association and offers law students the opportunity to gain valuable real-world experience by representing prisoners in federal court. Additionally, the Prisoners’ Rights Project is the only prisoner civil rights federal law clinic in the U.S. that is funded by an FBA Chapter.
“We are extremely pleased to see this one-of-a-kind program flourish. Our court and the greater community benefit from this unique partnership between NIU Law and the FBA,” said Chief Judge Rebecca R. Pallmeyer in a statement released by United States District Court, Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division.
While the students who participated in the project last year did not know exactly what to expect, they quickly learned about the practical side of the law. Recent graduate Loryn Scott (’19) was part of the first group of students to experience the program. Under supervision, Loryn and her partner were able to go through the entire process of discovery, including interrogatories, requests to produce, subpoenas, and depositions. They also conducted phone meetings with opposing counsel, hearings with the judge, and interviews with their client and potential witnesses.
“Being the lead counsel on a case allowed us to gain experience and knowledge that none of our other classmates had. Thanks to this program, I felt more confident in court when I obtained my first job as an assistant state’s attorney,” Loryn said.
Associate Dean Marc Falkoff, who helped spearhead the project, was very pleased with the success of the program’s first year and continues to extend his gratitude for the generosity and tremendous support from the Federal Bar Association and U.S. District Court judges.
“This was an amazing opportunity for our students to take the skills that they learned about in the classroom and apply them in real life. Taking responsibility for actual clients was something they found incredibly valuable. Over the course of the year, they used every practical skill that we taught them in the law school,” said Dean Falkoff.
One change to the program this year is the new adjunct professor and supervising attorney Richard Dvorak. Professor Dvorak replaces Lisa Jensen, who was selected to serve as a U.S. Magistrate Judge for the Northern District of Illinois, Western Division. Dvorak has his own practice in Willowbrook and Chicago, where he has spent almost 20 years concentrating on civil rights, criminal defense and appellate advocacy.
The Prisoners’ Rights Program adds to the list of incredible experiential learning opportunities offered by the NIU College of Law for its students. The Civil Justice Clinic and Criminal Defense Clinic also located in Rockford, along with the Health Advocacy Clinic located in Aurora, are all a part of the law school’s history of public service and mission to provide hands-on experience for students to advocate on behalf of real clients.