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Howard University School of Law and U.S. Department of Justice Host Panel on International Public Defense

The event exposed law students to careers at the intersection of U.S. public defense, international law and development, and civil and human rights

Howard University Public Defense Panel

WASHINGTON – On April 15, the United States Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Office for Access to Justice visited the Howard University School of Law and participated in a panel discussion entitled “From Local Advocacy to Global Impact: Expanding Career Options in American Public Defense and Advancing the Rule of Law.” The Office for Access to Justice works to break down barriers to the DOJ’s founding principle and enduring promise of equal justice under the law. 

This panel exposed law students to careers at the intersection of U.S. public defense, international law and development, and civil and human rights. Moderated by Rick Jones, chief executive officer and founder of public defense organization Neighborhood Defender Service, the panel featured Nicole Taylor (J.D. ’04), fellows advisory council member at the International Legal Foundation and former Philadelphia public defender; Jody Mullis, the DOJ Office of Overseas Prosecutorial Development, Assistance and Training (OPDAT) resident legal advisor in Ghana and former public defender; and Edmund Foley, executive director of Ghana’s Legal Aid Commission. 

“Being a public defender lays a good foundation for understanding legal systems. The ILF does very practical work. As a public defender in Philadelphia and ILF fellow, I traveled to Nepal, Tunisia, Palestine’s West Bank, and Myanmar and worked hand in hand with public defenders in those countries to inject best practices in criminal defense into individual cases and do strategic litigation to hold the governments accountable to their constitutions, criminal codes, and international human rights codes,” said Taylor. 

As public defense systems globally face recruitment and retention issues and issues of burnout due to high caseloads, the panel emphasized the importance of public defense as an essential arm of any legal system. Over the last 8 years, the DOJ’s OPDAT – with funding from the U.S. Department of State – has supported justice sector development in Ghana. This has included training and technical assistance for Ghana’s criminal defense bar, and support for the development and launch of the country’s first Public Defender Division in May 2023. 

“I’ve always been interested in public interest work, but not necessarily public defense. Coming to this event today and hearing from the panelists about their experiences as public defenders has inspired me to do more research on that area of the law, join the civil rights clinic next year, and really get involved in this type of work,” said Spencer Jones, a first-year law student from West Memphis, Arkansas. 

“I think it's important as a 1L to get exposure to as many different pathways as possible to help understand what a career as an attorney could look like. I'm very interested in criminal defense and public defense, so it was exciting to hear that this career path can allow me to do that work in the states as well as internationally,” said Jazmene McMillan, a first-year student from Little Rock, Arkansas. “I really appreciated Mrs. Taylor’s perspective on what it’s like to be an American attorney in another country. She emphasized how it is important to be respectful of the work already being done and to go in with a service mindset focused on improving and building on what is already happening.” 




About Howard University  

Founded in 1867, Howard University is a private, research university comprising 14 schools and colleges. Students pursue more than 140 programs of study leading to undergraduate, graduate and professional degrees. The University operates with a commitment to Excellence in Truth and Service and has produced three Schwarzman Scholars, four Marshall Scholars, four Rhodes Scholars, 12 Truman Scholars, 25 Pickering Fellows and more than 165 Fulbright recipients. Howard also produces more on-campus African American Ph.D. recipients than any other university in the United States. For more information on Howard University, visit www.howard.edu