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Protest Defense Practicum

In the Protest and Civil Disobedience Defense Practicum, students provide legal services to protesters arrested or mistreated in connection with participation in nonviolent political action. Depending on client needs, students advise and work with activists at the local and national level, participate in criminal defense litigation, appeals, and federal court civil rights suits.

Projects and Cases

  • In 2017, the practicum successfully litigated appeals from trespass convictions connected with the We Are Seneca Lake protest movement. Students researched, wrote, and argued cases before two different judges, and not only overturned the seven lower court convictions but secured decisions holding that none of the 657 protesters arrested during the ongoing protest activities could have been legally guilty of trespass.
  • In 2018, the practicum successfully defended EVICT ICE protesters arrested in connection with a demonstration at the ICE offices in Syracuse, New York. Students participated in arraignment, motion practice, suppression hearings and ultimately were able to work with a team of assigned attorneys to get the charges dismissed after establishing that the People had not followed proper identification procedures.
  • In 2019–20, the practicum joined the defense team for the Kings Bay Plowshares, working with clients and nationally known defense attorneys to support trials in the Southern District Federal Court of Georgia. Students also successfully represented the Extinction Rebellion in charges related to a Chase Bank protest in Ithaca, New York.
  • In 2020, the practicum is focused on representing local and national activists arrested or engaged in police brutality and racial justice actions. In addition to representing clients in criminal court proceedings, the clinic is working on a 1983 civil rights action in Federal Court to address police brutality by the NYPD at protests arising from the killing of George Floyd.

Clinic Goals

The Protest and Civil Disobedience Defense Clinic is a setting in which students:

  • Assume primary responsibility for client matters
  • Provide excellent legal representation to activists and movements
  • Develop key lawyering skills, including interviewing, counseling, fact investigation, drafting, negotiation, and trial advocacy
  • Engage in reflective lawyering, showing the ability to evaluate past performances and continually improve future performances through planning
  • Collaborate with other clinic students, clinic supervisors, and community partners

To apply, students may submit a resume and a brief statement of interest in the online application process on the current student community site.

Participating in the Clinic

To address our clients’ multiple legal needs, students’ work may involve any of the following areas of law:

  • Direct representation of clients in local New York courts arrested on misdemeanor or violation level charges in connection with protest actions
  • Directly represent clients on appeals from misdemeanor or violation level criminal convictions
  • Support felony trials in Federal or State courts: interview clients and witnesses; prepare trial binders; legal and factual research; draft internal memoranda and occasionally pleadings
  • Represent clients in 1983 civil rights actions related to misconduct in connection with protest actions
  • Participate as a legal observer at actions, prepare handouts about protester rights and risks and provide pre-action advice to activists or movements seeking to understand the legal implications of proposed protest activities

Clinic Faculty

Cornell Law School
Hughes Hall
Ithaca, NY 14853

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