Skip to main content

Criminal Defense Law Clinic Course Information

Students represent low income community members and University of Alabama students charged with misdemeanor crimes in Tuscaloosa and neighboring rural counties. Students also work on post-conviction felony cases and clinic projects relating to criminal justice reform.

LAW 665-011


Amy Kimpel


Open only to third-year students – students MUST be registered with the Alabama State Bar to receive a student practice card for the Clinic. Preference given to students who have taken or are taking Criminal Procedure and Evidence.

Credit hours/duration

This clinic is offered for four credits and is a one-semester clinic. Students who are taking this clinic for the first time must also take the corresponding two credit, one semester class.

Weekly classes

Seminar: 1½ hour TBA

Case Rounds: 1½ hour TBA

The Criminal Defense Clinic has been in existence since 1985. The Clinic provides third-year law students with an opportunity to learn how to represent clients by trying cases from start to finish in all phases of the criminal process. While the emphasis in the clinic is on courtroom skills, students will practice a range of lawyering skills, including client interviewing and counseling, case investigation, witnesses interviewing, trial preparation, and legal research and writing.

The primary goals of the Clinic are to provide students with an opportunity to learn the practice of criminal defense and to serve the community by providing quality pro bono legal services to indigent criminal defendants and UA students.

Highlights of Criminal Defense Clinic Activities

Since its inception, the Criminal Defense Clinic has conducted many jury and bench trials, both felonies and misdemeanors. The law students enrolled in the program have been extremely successful. In addition, through preparation and zealous advocacy, students have often secured better case outcomes on behalf of their clients by eliciting more favorable plea agreements from the District Attorney. The Clinic offers unparalleled criminal defense practice experience — many of the attorneys who work in the Tuscaloosa Public Defender’s Office are former Clinic students.

Who Does the Criminal Defense Clinic Represent?

Clinic students represent defendants through all stages of the criminal process. The clinic has indigent appointed cases from local municipal courts, as well as cases representing UA students and other low-income community members in Tuscaloosa and neighboring rural counties. Students are then assigned cases and begin the work necessary to zealously defend their clients. Students must work to build trust from the clients by ascertaining the clients’ needs and goals and by thoroughly investigating the facts and law of the cases. Students will counsel clients extensively, explain the clients’ options, advise clients on the chances at trial and of other options that may exist (e.g., reduction in charge, probation, court-ordered programs), and examine frequent client concerns about operating within a legal system the client may not understand.

What Types of Work Will I Do in the Criminal Defense Clinic?

The emphasis in the Clinic is on quality, client-centered representation, and zealous advocacy. This work includes thoughtful client interviewing and counseling, extensive trial preparation (e.g., interviewing, investigation, developing a case theory, and research and writing of legal memoranda to present to the court) and utilization of trial skills in court (e.g., direct and cross examination, legal objections, legal arguments). Students may be assigned to conduct bench or jury trials from start to finish in misdemeanor cases. The Clinic director assists students by reviewing their work at every stage of preparation. Students will videotape client interviews and review them with their peers in class. Before trial, students will engage in simulated exercises in class of every aspect of the upcoming trial. At trial, the director will accompany and assist the students as needed, and afterward lead a constructive critique with the class of the students’ performance.

Aside from trial level cases, students in the Criminal Defense Clinic handle post-conviction felony cases, expungements, respond to letters from individuals incarcerated in prison, and work on clinic projects relating to criminal justice reform. Last year the clinic students also worked on habeas corpus petitions for immigration detainees facing deportation based on criminal convictions.

What are the Criminal Defense Clinic Credits, Workload and Other Requirements?

The Criminal Defense Clinic is a one-semester, 4-credit course. The Clinic is open ONLY to third-year law students who must be registered as a law student with the Alabama State Bar WELL IN ADVANCE OF THE BEGINNING OF THE SEMESTER in order to receive the necessary student practice card. Students are expected to spend an average of 14 hours per week on their Clinic casework and in a weekly seminar. In the seminar, students learn about the criminal justice system and review appropriate client counseling and trial advocacy skills.

The Criminal Defense Clinic requires some travel—both to neighboring rural counties for case work and court observation and to the Legacy Museum and Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama for a class trip to gain a deeper understanding of the historical roots of the criminal justice system.

About Amy Kimpel

Amy Kimpel is an Assistant Professor of Clinical Legal Instruction and the Director of the Criminal Defense clinic, which represents low income community members and University of Alabama students in criminal proceedings in Tuscaloosa County. Prior to joining the faculty at The University of Alabama, Professor Kimpel worked at the Judicial Council of California in its Criminal Justice Services Office where she spearheaded implementation of a new mental health diversion law, Assembly Bill 1810. Previously, Kimpel worked as a public defender for both the Federal Defenders of San Diego, Inc. and the Santa Clara County Office of the Public Defender in San Jose, California. As a public defender, Kimpel tried twenty-five cases in federal and state court and argued before the Ninth Circuit twice.

Professor Kimpel earned her J.D., magna cum laude, from New York University School of Law where she was a Hays Fellow and Vanderbilt Medal recipient.  Professor Kimpel also holds a B.A. in English, magna cum laude, from Columbia University and a M.A. in Education from Teachers College, where she was part of the first cohort of Columbia Urban Educator fellows. Professor Kimpel’s scholarship focuses on criminal law and the intersection of criminal and immigration law.