March 27, 2024

Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School Welcomed the Department of Justice’s Office for Access to Justice on Their National Law School Tour


Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School (AJMLS) hosted Defending People, Families, and Communities, a day of events inspired by AJMLS’ selection as the final stop in a year-long national law school tour by the Department of Justice, Office for Access to Justice (ATJ). The purpose of the tour was to lift up legal careers serving those most denied access to justice. “ATJ Day” at AJMLS was the first public event hosted onsite after the grand opening of the Law School’s new lecture hall, student lounge, and study center. The expansion follows the completion of the upgraded Downtown Atlanta campus that opened in 2021.

The full-day of events began with opening remarks by Professor Jonathan Rapping, Director of the AJMLS Criminal Justice Certificate Program and Founder of Gideon’s Promise; additional opening remarks were heard by Ryan K. Buchanan, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia. Student leaders then engaged in a fireside chat with Rachel Rossi, Director of U.S. Department of Justice’s Office for Access to Justice.

“We are honored to have hosted Director Rossi and her team on their national law school tour,” said Jace C. Gatewood, Dean of AJMLS. “Our institution prides itself on empowering students to skillfully shape the criminal justice system. By providing an integrated, applied approach to legal education, AJMLS students graduate equipped with the necessary strategies to be ethical, professional, and moral lawyers in less than perfect systems. Our faculty and students fully immersed themselves in the day’s events and we believe the unique experience will be a lasting highlight of their law school careers.”

Attendees were invited to table talks with over 20 participating organizations, ranging from defender offices to non-profits, local to national. Seasoned practitioners led eight workshops tailored to both undergraduate and law students seeking careers in law and criminal justice. An inspiring keynote address was delivered by Director Rossi, who spoke passionately about joining the mission of public defense work while inspiring students to forge a new vision for justice.

“In their daily work, public defenders are tasked with the mighty responsibility of ensuring that the constitutional promises core to our justice system — innocent until proven guilty, speedy trial, due process, reasonable search and seizure — are realized,” said Office for Access to Justice Director Rachel Rossi. “In these ways, they make sure every part of our system is fairer, more equal, more just.”

Two panel discussions, Transformational Stories: Wisdom From Justice-Impacted Law Students and Connecting Advocacy in the Courtroom, Community, and Statehouse, offered attendees the experience of discussing topics seldom explored in a law school setting. The community experience at Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School is different in that these discussions are both welcomed and encouraged.

“Participating in Access to Justice Day was a unique opportunity to engage with practitioners of social justice, advocacy, and public service,” said Ricky Panayoty, Student Bar Association President and justice-impacted student panelist. “It allowed me to deepen my understanding of the legal needs of underserved communities and inspired me to work toward creating a more equitable and inclusive legal system. Additionally, Access to Justice Day allowed me to participate in sharing transformational stories that inspire others to consider a career in public service.”

Final thoughts were delivered by Professor Jonathan Rapping then all enjoyed an evening reception hosted at the Law School by the Barrister’s Society.

“It was an incredible honor for Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School to be selected as the final stop of the Office for Access to Justice’s National Law School Tour focusing on the critical need for public defenders and elevating career opportunities in diverse environments,” said Professor Rapping. “That AJMLS was chosen as the culmination of a year of events celebrating the 60th Anniversary of Gideon v. Wainwright is a testament to the mission and values of our institution. It is also a testament to our amazing student body. Our graduates will disproportionately represent people in trial courts who otherwise would not have access to justice. This is a reflection of our commitment to shaping a generation of lawyers committed to improving the profession and, in turn, society.”

Prior to “ATJ Day” at the Law School, the Office for Access to Justice had commemorated National Public Defense Day on March 18 by announcing the launch of the Public Defense Resource Hub (PD Hub), a one-stop shop with comprehensive resources and materials to support individuals and organizations involved in public defense.