Experiential learning opportunities & faculty inspire new grad

For Liz Upton, Denver Law class of 2011, a pair of first- and second-year classes kindled the wish to become a criminal defense attorney. That desire grew during a summer externship and came to full fruition when she spent a semester as a student-lawyer on the law school’s Criminal Defense Clinic (CDC). These experiential learning opportunities, she says, “connected the coursework I did in classes with the real practice of law.”

Her path, leading to a job in the Jefferson County Public Defenders Office, is not the one she necessarily expected to take. Liz came to Sturm College of Law after spending a few years in wholesale mortgage sales. “My first thought was I would go into real estate law, or banking, or land use,” she recounts. “But criminal defense work is so exciting. It was a progression for me, beginning with my first-year Crim Law class with Professor Kamin, then Crim Pro with Professor Marceau. Next I spent the summer between my second and third years doing an externship in the Public Defenders Office. It was my first exposure to ‘being a lawyer.’ I played a small role inside a large and busy process. I saw and learned what criminal defense lawyers do.”

Participating in the Criminal Defense Clinic (CDC) this past academic year was the ideal way to continue the kind of work she knew she wanted to do. “The Clinic,” says Liz, “was a different kind of experience. There we took ownership of our own cases. I handled five cases and for each of them, from beginning to end, my partner and I had to do it all, take every little step, craft and file every motion. It was hands-on learning the entire way. And we had great mentoring. Professor Rosenberg is a wealth of knowledge. So many current judges and lawyers are former students of his. Professor Lasch could not have done more to help me develop my on-the-ground lawyering skills—oral and written advocacy exercised with a client-centered focus.”

Liz Upton knows busy times lie ahead when she joins the Public Defenders Office in August. “You have to be ready,” she says. “My first day there I expect to get a thick portfolio of cases.” She believes she is practice-ready and up to the challenges ahead. She feels good about the choices she has made. “I loved law school and I think I will love being a lawyer.”

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