Notre Dame Law School launched the Exoneration Justice Clinic this past fall as part of a growing commitment to help free people who have been wrongfully convicted.
Now, benefaction from a generous Notre Dame family will allow the Exoneration Justice Clinic to expand to include a postgraduate fellow. The fellowship will cover salary and benefits for a recent Notre Dame Law graduate to work at the clinic full time for two years.
Third-year law student Nikolai Stieglitz has been named the first recipient of the new fellowship.
Starting this summer, Stieglitz will investigate and litigate wrongful conviction cases for the clinic. He will manage the intake process and help assess which cases the clinic accepts for legal representation. He will also conduct client work, investigate cases, interview witnesses, and draft petitions for post-conviction relief.
Stieglitz has been involved in exoneration work during each of his three years at Notre Dame Law School. He has seen the program evolve from a volunteer student-run organization to a for-credit externship to a full legal clinic that functions as a stand-alone law firm.
During his first year of law school, he volunteered on the Notre Dame Exoneration Project’s intake team reading letters from clients and helping with investigations. During his second year, he participated in the Law School’s Wrongful Conviction Externship. This year, he took part in the new Exoneration Justice Clinic’s yearlong program.
“There is a large gap between the needs and resources available in exoneration work. There is a lot of work to be done in this area,” Stieglitz said.
“I am grateful to the benefactors who made this possible, and excited that Notre Dame Law School is investing resources into this area and that the Exoneration Justice Clinic has become formal,” he said. “As more people start to talk about wrongful convictions and exoneration, the system can make concrete, positive changes.”
Notre Dame Law Professor Jimmy Gurulé, a former federal prosecutor who directs the Exoneration Justice Clinic, said Stieglitz has demonstrated a passion for correcting the miscarriage of justice in wrongful conviction cases.
“Our clients are fortunate to have someone as talented, dedicated, and hardworking as Nikolai investigating and litigating their cases, and fighting to help them regain their freedom,” Gurulé said.
Stieglitz earned his undergraduate degree from American University in Washington, D.C. Before law school, he helped establish an English language instruction startup in Santiago, Chile. He interned with Chief Judge Jon E. DeGuilio of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana during the summer after his first year of law school. He worked for Indiana Legal Services in South Bend during his second-year summer.
The Exoneration Justice Clinic is one of Notre Dame Law School’s six legal clinics. All of the clinics function as teaching law offices where students work as lead attorneys on real cases under the supervision of experienced faculty members. A seventh clinic, the Religious Liberty Clinic, is scheduled to launch formally in the fall of 2022.
Notre Dame Law students have already had some victories in exoneration cases, too. The University of Notre Dame highlighted the students’ work with a feature story and podcast series in December 2020.
To support the important work of the Exoneration Justice Clinic, please click here to donate: giving.nd.edu/EJC