Paul E. Wilson Project for Innocence & Post-Conviction Remedies
Former KU Law Professor Paul E. Wilson founded what was then the Defender Project in 1965 to help prisoners who otherwise might not receive legal representation. Students in the clinic represent state and federal prisoners in appellate and post-conviction litigation in state and federal courts, including:
- conducting fact investigations
- drafting pleadings
- filing motions
- preparing for hearings
- creating case strategy
Since 2009, students in the Project have won at least 28 conviction reversals. That same year, a project team won a rare grant of executive clemency for a man convicted of robbery during a racially charged civil rights-era trial in Wichita, Kan. The project gets more than 200 letters a year from inmates seeking assistance.
Studying criminal law through the Project for Innocence
Brian Vanorsby, L’17
When an attorney mentor suggested that Brian Vanorsby get involved with KU Law’s Project for Innocence and Post-Conviction Remedies, the aspiring lawyer took notice.
“He suggested it because of the writing experience and because it’s a good conversation piece for job interviews,” Vanorsby said. The clinic is open to all law students, so Vanorsby was able to participate the summer after his 1L year. He describes the learning curve as steep, but enriching. “It was like, ‘Here are your cases, go for it,’” Vanorsby said.
Students manage their own caseload, from research and investigation to making phone calls to keep cases moving. They seek guidance from supervising attorneys and meet weekly to discuss their progress.
Vanorsby recalls a case he handled for an incarcerated client with pending charges. The client’s untried charges prevented him from participating in programs and classes while in prison. Vanorsby was able to get the charges dismissed, allowing his client to participate in anger management classes, job skills training and community college courses. “Now he can participate in programs that might help rehabilitate him into the community,” Vanorsby said. “He can find a job once he’s out.”
Overall, the clinic taught Vanorsby the importance of criminal law in ensuring a fair and just society. The skills he gained will serve him well no matter what area of the law he practices.
“You think the system always works, but there are times when it really doesn’t,” Vanorsby said. “Unfair things happen. I’ve learned how important criminal law is and the work that lawyers can do helping their clients. It was a good way to use my education to give back early on.”
Students enroll for two semesters, for four credits total per semester or for five credits during the summer. The course is open to second- or third-year students and satisfies the upper-level writing requirement. Criminal Procedure is a co- or pre-requisite.
Download an application (PDF)