PS 491: Public Defender Internship for Fall 18

Applications are now open for PS 491: Public Defender Internship for Fall of 2018 and will be due on April 5. Read on for details about the course and the application process.

Are you interested in how criminal courts work?  Would you like to see an arraignment, a motion hearing or a real criminal trial?  Want to meet with Public Defender clients about their cases?  Would you like to help an attorney prepare cases for court?  The Department of Political Science and the Champaign County Public Defender’s Office plan to offer an internship for academic credit in Fall, 2018.   Jamie Thomas-Ward, the Director of Pre-Law Services, will provide academic supervision of these internships. Unlike other internships that require a substantial research project done in conjunction with the internship itself for an award of academic credit, in this internship, students will be awarded credit for their work in the Public Defender’s Office combined with a series of structured academic assignments requiring integration of internship experiences with readings on the political systems, the legal system and constitutional and human rights. This class requires one hour of class time per week, and about six hours per week of work at the internship site.

What, specifically, can you expect to be doing as part of this internship?

  • Watching criminal court proceedings such as arraignments, sentencing hearings, motion hearings, and trials
  • Reviewing criminal case files (such as police reports) with Public Defender clients both at the office and at the Champaign County Jail
  • Reviewing evidence and bodycam footage and organizing materials for case files
  • Discussing case information and strategy with the Public Defender attorneys
  • Contacting potential witnesses to testify at sentencing hearings; and
  • Other research and projects as needed.

The Public Defender’s Office is a fast-paced environment. Ideal students for this program are: interested in criminal law proceedings; willing to take a variety of assignments; able to work independently when given appropriate support; and able to devote 90 hours during the semester to the Public Defender’s Office. Admission is competitive: We expect to have five openings for Fall, 2018.

By Thursday, April 5, students seeking to participate in the Public Defender Internship Program must submit an application online at https://forms.illinois.edu/sec/7935624. The application consists of a cover letter, informal transcript, resume and writing sample. The cover letter needs to address each of the following elements: 1) explain your interest in and motivation for undertaking this internship, 2) share your experience in working with only a modest level of direct supervision, and 3) discuss your plans for accommodating participation in the internship in your schedule (including how many other credit hours you plan to carry, whether you will be studying for the LSAT, whether you have other significant time commitments).  All of those materials will be reviewed for a decision on acceptance into the program by the departmental internship committee.

At a minimum, students seeking to participate in this program need (1) to have completed 45 credit hours by Fall, 2018 (2) with at least one year of residence on this campus and (3) to have earned a cumulative UIUC grade point average of 3.0 or higher.  They must (4) have completed PS 101: U.S. Government & Politics  and (5) have no arrests or criminal convictions – as an adult or juvenile – or serious campus disciplinary violations involving campus or local law enforcement.  In addition to work in the courthouse, students will need to attend a class for one hour per week on Wednesday afternoons at 4:00.  Submit all applications online at https://forms.illinois.edu/sec/7935624.

Past students have really enjoyed this opportunity.  Questions on this internship?  Contact Jamie Thomas-Ward at thomas99@illinois.edu.

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Course Selection for Pre-Law Students: Part 2

We previously shared a list of possible Spring 2018 courses of interest to pre-law students (click here to see that post). What else should you know about building your semester schedule? Here are several tips and suggestions to help pre-law students make the most of your upcoming semesters.

Students really can major in ANYTHING and be successful in law school, but you must be a strong student in whatever you choose. 

What academic skills should you build? Pre-law students must demonstrate strong research, writing, reading, and speaking skills, which can be accomplished both in and out of the classroom. These are the core skills that law schools truly care about, so take a look at your DARS and ask yourself: How many courses have you taken that develop and reflect these skills? Take courses that demonstrate those skills–they can be in any discipline. Popular options include English, History, Political Science, Philosophy, or Communication courses, but don’t feel limited to only those.

Balance academic challenge with success. Law schools want to see students who demonstrate academic success while taking a challenging courseload. Ideally, pre-law students would take an academic course load that is challenging both in terms of rigor and credits while still doing performing well. What does this mean, and how can you achieve it?

  • A challenging but not overwhelming course load suggestion is 15-17 credit hours. (This can vary due to individual factors, and is only a general guideline, not a mandate. Think carefully about the right course load for you.)
  • Be strategic in your course selection. Don’t take your 5 hardest classes in the same semester to get them out of the way. Work with your major advisor to determine how you can distribute those courses throughout your remaining semesters. Likewise, don’t take your 5 easiest classes at the same time–use those to give you some relief from the harder classes each semester.
  • For juniors and seniors–Move up from 1 and 200 level courses to 3 and 400 levels in order to demonstrate an appropriate level of challenge. A good general rule is no more than one 1 or 200 level course per semester for juniors and seniors (unless you must do so to graduate on time). Taking easy classes to pad a GPA is obvious to law school admissions, who know what a challenging semester looks like.

Use your major(s) and minor(s) to complement each other. If you have a major that does not necessarily demonstrate lots of writing or research skills, then selecting a minor or secondary major that does is a smart balance. Unusual combinations of majors/minors can also show a law school someone who is intellectually curious and able to succeed in a wide variety of coursework.

Consider changing majors, especially if you are not able to achieve mostly As and some Bs in your coursework.

Do not make course selections for these reasons:

  • A friend/roommate/sibling/parent said the class was easy;
  • I only wanted classes on Tues/Thurs so I just picked what I could get into on those days;
  • I only wanted afternoon classes so I didn’t even consider anything in the morning;
  • I wanted to hurry up and graduate so I took a very demanding overload each semester.

What, then, are good reasons to take a course?

  • It demonstrates the skills that law schools prefer to see;
  • I like the topic and find it interesting or it is required for my major/minor;
  • It fits in well with my remaining coursework in terms of balancing rigor and the ability to do well; and
  • I talked with my academic advisor who agreed it is a good fit for me.

You must prioritize academics if law school is your goal. Don’t get distracted from your goal of law school admission. If being president of a social organization or volunteering too much affects your grades, it’s time to dial back your extracurriculars and rededicate yourself to your role as a student. Law schools will not care that the reason your grades suffered is because you were planning a big fundraiser…that shows them a lack of prioritizing and time management skills.

Build important academic skills. Right now you are building academic skills and habits which you will rely on when you transition to law school, where the work is much harder and infinitely more time consuming than your undergraduate studies. Now is the time to master discipline (not procrastinating), effective note taking, reading comprehension and speed, attention to detail in your writing, citing your work appropriately, giving an effective speech, and managing your time. All of these are skills that you will be expected to bring with you into your law school classroom.

Remember that grade replacement will not help for law school (click here for a refresher), so take the time to carefully consider your best course options and seek help when you need it.

 

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