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Akron Law honored for PD/prosecutor career prep

Legal News Reporter

Published: February 10, 2016

As a young girl growing up in Akron, Nora Bryan said she watched “The Practice” with her mother and romanticized what it would be like to be a lawyer.

But as she grew older, she began putting the pieces in place to make her childhood dream a reality. After graduating from Loyola University Chicago, she moved back to Akron to attend The University of Akron School of Law.

“I chose The University of Akron because I was interested in becoming a trial lawyer,” said Bryan. “The school has a great trial team and a lot of great professors who help prepare students for trial, appellate and civil work.

“I’ve spoken to students at other schools and there is not the same focus on preparation for trial.”

Now a 3L, Bryan works in the major trial unit at the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office.

“I assist the prosecutors in their case preparation,” said Bryan. “I prepare and respond to motions, write appeals and do trial prep research. They also allow me to be really hands on in the process by letting me sit in on victim and witness interviews and be involved during the trials. 

“I’m leaning toward becoming a prosecutor,” she said. “Honestly if anyone told me three years ago that I would be at this point with my goal so closely within reach, I would not have believed them. I definitely chose the right law school.”

In December, The National Jurist named The University of Akron School of Law the seventh best school in the country for students who want to pursue a career as a public defender or prosecutor.

Published in the 2016 winter edition of The National Jurist’s preLaw Magazine, the study recognizes the best schools in the categories of public interest, government and prosecutors/public defenders. The rankings are based on curricular offerings, employment placement, student debt, starting salary and loan repayment assistance programs.

The University of Akron School of Law is one of 49 public and private schools to make the list, which includes only one other Ohio School, the University of Cincinnati. In the category of prosecutors/public defenders, The University of Akron School of Law joins 20 other institutions around the country.

“It’s always encouraging when we have an objective source evaluate the programs and offerings of law schools across the country using objective criteria and see Akron Law make the top 10 list,” said Matthew J. Wilson, dean of the law school.

“Our students are overwhelmingly satisfied with the education they are receiving,” said Wilson. “The longer they study with us, the more taken aback they are with the quality of education.”

Among its key offerings, said Wilson, four re-entry clinics staffed by volunteer students who are supervised by Joann Sahl, a professor at the law school.

The CQE clinic gives law students the chance to meet with clients who have criminal convictions and are seeking a Certificate of Qualification for Employment. The certificate makes it possible for an employer or licensing authority to hire or license an ex-offender, should they wish to do so.

Those involved with the expungement clinic assist low-income Akron residents to get their convictions sealed by the court, while students who volunteer with the clemency project work with ex-offenders to obtain a pardon from the governor.

The most recent component is the human trafficking clinic, which helps victims of human trafficking to expunge their criminal records.

The re-entry clinics have been recognized by preLaw Magazine as one of the top 15 innovative clinics among law schools and last year the Association of American Law Schools named the clinics an “Innovative and Outstanding Program.”

Since 2014, Alisa Benedict O’Brien, director of career planning and placement, said about 15 percent of students applied for internships and externships with prosecutors and public defenders.

O’Brien said the internships, which can be paid or unpaid, give students a chance to gain substantive legal experience, generally in the government or public sector. She said the externships allow them to work in the legal field and earn academic credit.

“More and more students are looking for experiential learning opportunities,” said O’Brien. “During the school year, we encourage those who are interested in criminal law to spend as much time in the courtroom as possible.

“The school has strong ties to local public defender and prosecutor’s offices as well as offices in different parts of the country. Students also have the option of working in a nonprofit or governmental office for course credit.

“I think one of the biggest reasons we were recognized is because of our internship and externship programs,” said O’Brien.

Last August, the law school unveiled its first Summer Trial Academy giving over 150 students the chance to participate in mock criminal and civil trials at the Summit County Court of Common Pleas.

Fifteen second- and third-year students served as attorneys in two civil and two criminal trials presided over by sitting judges and incoming 1Ls were used as jurors and witnesses.

Practicing attorneys in Summit, Mahoning and Cuyahoga counties taught the course.

Bryan served as a research assistant for the director of the academy, Dana Cole, an associate professor of law.

“I think the academy was unbelievable,” said Bryan. “It gave students the chance to learn from the best trial lawyers in the state and get one-on-one attention. I don’t think other schools have anything comparable.”

“The summer trial academy gave students interested in becoming prosecutors and public defenders the opportunity to learn more about those careers on day one,” said Wilson. “Together with our course offerings, re-entry clinics, externships and job placement assistance, it makes our school a hidden gem.”