By Erin DeGrand J.D. ’16
Joining PLAP as a 1L, I was most attracted to the fact that it seemed like the only place on campus that would let me get involved without submitting a resume first. In the face of all of the stress that accompanies 1L, PLAP was welcoming and required no application. Not to worry, this Hufflepuff mindset goes Gryffindor quickly, but it is a notable and important aspect of PLAP that we take everyone.
Two things made me continue with PLAP throughout law school: the David and Goliath nature of the work, and the opportunity for as much hands-on experience as I could take. PLAP primarily represents prisoners in two types of hearings: disciplinary and parole. At disciplinary hearings, we defend prisoners from charges that they have violated a prison’s rules; these charges range in seriousness from disobeying a guard’s order to assault. In these hearings, students cross-examine guards and witnesses, they often directly examine their clients, and they make closing arguments to the hearing officer. At parole hearings, we represent prisoners asking the Parole Board to let them out of prison. Here, students rigorously prepare their clients for the Board’s questions, prepare parole memos explaining why their clients have reformed and are ready to return to society, and make opening and closing statements to the Board at the hearing.
These hearings often inspire feelings similar to how the Red Sox must have felt against the Yankees in 2004. Prisoners are the ultimate underdogs: they have no guarantee of counsel in these hearings. In the disciplinary hearings, the standard of proof is low, the prison decides what evidence it will allow, and the judge is often a former corrections officer. In the parole hearings, the board has a lot to lose in granting parole and nothing to lose in denying it. But there is no better win than an underdog win, and getting a ticket dismissed or parole granted can be just as sweet as beating the Yankees.