Helping the Wrongly Convicted: Paralegal Internships that Make a Difference

Posted by on August 9, 2013

When I asked Minnesota School of Business-Richfield paralegal program student, Savannah Cooley, if I could ask her a few questions about her very cool internship, this was the response I got:  “I am happy to share this amazing opportunity with MSB because they are the reason that I am able to be a part of something like the Innocence Project. I would like to start off by saying that I am so blessed to have this opportunity. I have been given the chance to use my internship to better a cause that I care very much about while gaining unique and valuable work experience.”

I pretty much couldn’t ask for a more enthusiastic response. Savannah is interning with the Minnesota Innocence Project. What’s that, you ask? In Savannah’s words:

paralegal programThe Innocence Project helps those who have been wrongfully convicted of serious felony crimes pursue an exoneration from prison. The one that I am interning for is located in the heart of St. Paul and works on cases that are happening in our own back yard. They help these people get the trial they need to have their case heard and possibly get out of prison and get their freedom back.  In some cases these innocent people have spent decades in prison for crimes that they did not commit. With modern technology, old rape kits and blood from old murder scenes have the ability to be tested and, in some cases, show that the person behind bars was not the individual that committed the crime. Most of these fall through the cracks because of flaws in the justice system. Whether it be inadequacy of defense counsel, inaccurate expert witness testimony or ignoring other possible suspects, these innocent individuals end up in prison and lose everything because of a crime they did not commit.

How did you learn about The Innocence Project?

During one of my legal classes at MSB, my instructor Rachna Tawlar showed a video of a documentary called “After Innocence.” This film told the stories of men who had spent a good portion of their lives in prison for crimes they did not commit. Furthermore, most of them had to fight to have the compelling and factual evidence heard at a hearing.  Once these men were released from prison, they still had to deal with getting the charges expunged from their records. And in most states, there is no form of compensation for the years they spent in prison or to help them reestablish their place in society.

How did you get the internship?

I spent time researching the organization and finding out all that I could about what they have done here in Minnesota and what their mission statement said about what their goals were for bettering the justice system.  My instructor helped me get my foot in the door. I practiced prior to my interview and went to the interview prepared with my portfolio of work that I have done while at MSB. I was persistent, professional and eager to learn during my interview with the staff and lead attorneys, and they accepted me because of my hard work at MSB during my schooling career. I also feel they accepted me because I used a lot of the techniques taught to me during Career Development, such as dressing professionally, presenting a clean and concise resume, being prepared to give my strengths and weaknesses during the interview, and a follow up call and thank you card also showed that I cared and was very excited to be a part of their program.

What do you do at your internship?

I have participated in meeting with potential clients at the prisons here in Minnesota. The clients at the Innocence Project are different in many ways from clients at the typical law office. The meetings are held in Minnesota prisons. So when visiting a potential client, the attorney and the paralegal must enter the prison and conduct the visit within the walls of the prison visitation rooms. Other tasks have been reading through potential client’s files and forming synopses of pertinent information; gathering recorders from the Minneapolis Police Department and the court house; collecting records for the states attorney’s office; performing secretarial duties; as well as interviewing expert witnesses and private investigators.

Thank you, Savannah, for sharing your story with us!

Thank you for your Interest in Minnesota School of Business.