Starting a Student Defenders Group as a Law Student:

Depending on what level of involvement your institution and jurisdiction allow, working as a student defender can help you develop a variety of important skills:

  • Client counseling
  • Procedural expertise, especially in Title IX
  • Oral advocacy
  • Written advocacy

Starting a Student Defenders group could also provide various benefits, such as:

  • Pro bono hours (depending on your school’s requirements)
  • Potential class credit
  • Opportunity to work with and help fellow students
  • Experience with administrative proceedings

By helping defend your fellow students, you can play an essential role in protecting legal equality. As a law student, you have the knowledge and skillset that can help protect due process for all. Students accused of misconduct do not always have a sophisticated sense of how to effectively advocate on their own behalf. But as a student defender, you will be able to help accused students analyze rules, identify and present relevant evidence, and build a case. Also, the presence of  a trained advocate provides stability  to the proceedings, especially when severe consequences like expulsion are on the line.

Similarly, a third party advocate can often present a more cohesive story in the opening and closing statements than the accused. A student defender can perceive whether requirements for violations are met, whether mitigating circumstances might be present, and whether other important factors warrant consideration in a way that someone without legal training would probably not be able to.

The skills you develop in law school will help you to protect justice for the rest of your career. Why not start now?

Group Structure:

The simplest and most straightforward starting place for a Student Defenders group is as an organization of law students who can provide tips to students. Simply informing accused students about their rights and the procedures of the student conduct process can help prevent serious violations of due process.

Student Defenders groups can take on a variety of forms and evolve over time. For example, they may begin as a registered student organization of law students helping an undergraduate Student Defenders group. They may consist of law students entering into a formal agreement with the university or a student government to provide assistance and support to students facing the campus disciplinary process. They may form or join a legal aid clinic formally sponsored by law professors or a department at the law school to provide services to students.

First Steps:

Study the rules of your jurisdiction and school. The key to starting a Student Defender group as a law student is knowing that the specifics of your group will vary significantly depending on which jurisdiction your campus is in. Pay careful attention to the specifics before proceeding. Consult your school’s deans, administrators, and professors, as they can be great resources as you proceed.

FIRE offers a comprehensive guide for undergraduates about how to start a Student Defenders group on campus that has useful resources and advice for you as well. FIRE is also here to offer tips and to answer any questions you may have at any point in the process. Email us any time at studentsdefenders@thefire.org.