In August, St. John’s Law will launch the Defense and Advocacy Clinic under the direction of Professor Martin J. LaFalce, a former public defender. Offering an unrivaled opportunity for students to learn the law and build practical skills hands on, the clinic will operate from a well-appointed office suite that is also home to the Law School’s in-house Child Advocacy Clinic, Consumer Justice for the Elderly: Litigation Clinic, and Securities Arbitration Clinic.
Representing adults charged with misdemeanors in New York City Criminal Court, students in the one-semester Defense and Advocacy Clinic will handle all aspects of a case, including: interviewing clients and witnesses, making bail arguments, conducting investigations, litigating discovery, negotiating with prosecutors and judges, appearing at hearings, and advising clients regarding immigration and other collateral consequences. As they gain this invaluable experience, the students will learn to navigate New York's criminal legal system and advocate for clients who are disenfranchised. They will also attend a weekly seminar, where they will explore New York City’s criminal legal reform movements and consider policy solutions to systemic issues they encounter in the field, among other topics.
His work developing and directing the clinic draws on Professor LaFalce’s 14-year career at the Legal Aid Society—a path that took him from Riker’s Island, where he represented clients charged with violating the conditions of their parole, to city courtrooms, where he represented New Yorkers charged with crimes ranging from low level marijuana possession to murder. Professor LaFalce also worked on impact litigation and legislative reform, most recently as a policy attorney in Legal Aid’s Criminal Defense Practice. He joined the St. John’s Law faculty as an adjunct professor teaching Criminal Procedure: Investigations before coming on full time to teach Criminal Law this year.
As he looks forward to the clinic’s opening, Professor LaFalce can already envision its impact. “St. John's has long been recognized as preparing students for work as prosecutors,” he notes. “I'm eager to help develop our reputation as an institution that graduates movement lawyers committed to shrinking the size of our criminal legal system and reducing its grave harms.” It’s a vital mission that centers on students who want to make a difference. Professor LaFalce can relate to that desire, which sparked in him as a law student interning at Legal Aid in his hometown of Buffalo, NY.
“After that early experience as a law student in the field, I knew that becoming a public defender was the best path for me to address searing racial disparities and other pervasive problems in our criminal legal system,” he says. “I’ve been able to do that work in practice and as an educator. It’s a tremendous privilege to teach at St. John’s Law, and to direct our new Defense and Advocacy Clinic. I'm thrilled to guide students as they begin their legal careers, and I'm incredibly excited to be in conversation with any and all of them who aspire to be public defenders.”