Six Hofstra Law students are spending their spring break in Lafayette, Louisiana, providing much-needed assistance to public defenders who are dealing with a backlog of cases for indigent individuals who need counsel.
Due to a lack of revenue and budget cuts, judicial districts in Louisiana have been forced to put poor defendants on waiting lists. In the 15th Judicial District, where the students are working, there are over 2,300 names on the waiting list.
“As a law student, I look for every opportunity to get involved in the legal system and make a difference,” said third-year law student C. Nneka Nzekwu. “Once I heard about the chance to head to Louisiana, I knew it was an opportunity to do good and be involved in very important work. Everyone talks about fighting the good fight, and now I have the chance to do that with the support of my school.”
While working in Lafayette with the public defenders and the coalition of lawyers who have assembled to litigate the right to counsel for these individuals, the students will examine criminal case files to identify potential investigative or litigation tasks. This is a critical step to help move these cases forward. The students may also interview clients to assist in the factual analysis of the case, as well as work with practitioners to fashion a first draft of the pleading to be filed.
The trip was organized by Professor Ellen Yaroshefsky, with the help of Dean Eric Lane, Senior Associate Dean for Experiential Education Jennifer A. Gundlach and Professor Elizabeth M. Nevins. Professor Yaroshefsky will be joining the Hofstra Law faculty this summer as the Howard Lichtenstein Distinguished Professor of Legal Ethics and director of the newly named Monroe H. Freedman Institute for the Study of Legal Ethics.