Since 1981, the Post-Conviction Justice Project (PCJP) has trained hundreds of law students to stand for justice and contribute to legislation that is transforming our legal landscape.
Under the direction of PCJP Director Heidi Rummel and Co-Founder Michael Brennan at the USC Gould School of Law, the Project has advocated for thousands of clients at parole hearings, on habeas corpus in state and federal courts, at resentencing hearings, and in prison workshops.
The Project hires six supervising students each summer and enrolls ten additional students in the fall for the academic year. In addition to developing critical lawyering proficiencies through hands-on experience, students examine and discuss broader criminal justice issues.
USC Gould Class of 2017
The heart of PCJP are the clients. The program teaches you how bridge empathy into legal results. The clinic’s focus on dignifying the stories of the guilty and wrongly-incarcerated through compassionate mitigation and tireless representation shifts the narrative beyond a focus on legal innocence. The result is a clinic that teaches students to not only witness the brokenness of their client’s lives, but to convey their client’s stories effectively because they learn to see the brokenness within themselves. This bridge to empathy is taught by PCJP’s primary instrument: the client visit and interview in state prison. PCJP brings proximity to the unseen truths underlying our client’s convictions. We have the privilege to bring their story to light and dignify that brokenness by making their freedom a legal reality. As students, we find at the end of this clinical experience that the clients had this power and freedom within themselves all along. We are left with the conviction within ourselves that as lawyers we have the unique privilege to usher this truth and light forward throughout our careers.
Class of 2015
Being a part of PCJP was the best decision I made in law school. It gave me the opportunity to get hands-on experience working with clients — experience I couldn’t have gotten from any single class. In the process, I made life-long friends and grew into a more compassionate and understanding person and attorney.
Pictured: Mary Virginia Jones, right, appears in Los Angeles Superior Court to plead no contest to voluntary manslaughter with Laura Donaldson, middle, a USC certified law student and attorney Heidi L. Rummel, left, a director in USC’s Post- Conviction Justice Project on March 24, 2014.
Class of 1990
The Post Conviction Justice Project was not only an integral part of my law school experience, but it has defined my career. I was a PCJP groupie. I worked as a student supervisor for PCJP during the summer after my first year and then participated in PCJP for all of my second and third year. As a result of my PCJP experience, I was hired as one of the first death penalty law clerks for the federal district court. Since then, I have spent the past 24 years working as a sole practitioner doing appellate/post-conviction work similar to what I did in PCJP. I like to joke (although it’s true) that I won my first Ninth Circuit case as a PCJP student and then took over 10 years to replicate that feat. In all honesty, I owe all of my best attorney attributes to the stellar mentoring I received participating in PCJP.
Pictured: Client Leif Taylor and his post-conviction attorney Tracy Dressner.
Class of 2009
PCJP armed me with usable skills and experience in a niche practice area that became the foundation of law practice. I am ever grateful for the experience and the opportunity to represent real clients and make a difference, so early in my career.
Class of 2019
I worked as a certified student intern with PCJP for my 2L and 3L years. I worked on the cases of three female clients who were incarcerated at a women’s prison in California. I met with each client numerous times and prepared each of them for their upcoming parole hearings. I represented one client at her parole hearing where she was granted parole. I was also able to travel to different men’s prisons throughout California to provide incarcerated men with information about the parole process. Being a part of PCJP during law school was such an invaluable experience. I learned how to conduct client interviews, advocate on behalf of clients in both written and oral arguments, and develop the skills necessary to become an effective lawyer.
Pictured: Maggie Mendez providing legal advice to juvenile life without parole inmate during prison workshop.”
Class of 2014
PCJP showed me how to fight. I’m an assistant federal public defender handling everything from DUIs to triple homicides. PCJP gave me the foundation I needed to connect with clients, learn their priorities, and advocate accordingly. Every student should consider applying for this clinic!
Class of 2014
PCJP taught me how to be an effective advocate for my client…how to ask the hard questions, and how valuable it is to work with people who are smarter than you PCJP reminded me why I went to law school and why this work is so critically important to creating a more just legal system.
Class of 2019
PCJP was an invaluable experience in my law school career. I was being able to gain practical skills by preparing and representing several individuals at their parole hearings. The most meaningful aspect was seeing that with every meeting, each client was another step closer in their journey to freedom.
Class of 2015
Working for the Post-Conviction Justice Project was certainly the highlight of my law school eduction. It was an amazing opportunity to be able to work with clients on both interesting and important issues and to get hands-on legal experience. I feel that it prepared me very well to be able to handle cases independently upon graduating.