Laura Cohen is Distinguished Clinical Professor of Law, the Justice Virginia Long Scholar, and Director of the Rutgers Criminal and Youth Justice Clinic (CYJC). The CYJC’s mission of providing post-conviction legal representation to clients incarcerated as adolescents in matters ranging from conditions of confinement and actual innocence to parole and executive clemency is unique among the nation’s law school clinics. Professor Cohen also co-directs both the Rutgers Center on Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice and (with Professor Sandra Simkins) the Northeast Juvenile Defender Center, a regional affiliate of the National Juvenile Defender Center.
One of the country’s leading experts on juvenile justice and the legal representation of youth, Professor Cohen was appointed in 2013 as a consultant to the United States Department of Justice Civil Rights Division in its investigation of systemic due process violations in the St. Louis County, Missouri Juvenile Court. Prior to joining the Rutgers faculty, she was the Director of Training for the New York City Legal Aid Society=s Juvenile Rights Division, where she oversaw the attorney training program and public policy initiatives relating to child welfare and juvenile justice. She also served as Deputy Court Monitor for the U.S. District Court, District of Puerto Rico in Morales Feliciano v. Hernandez Colon, a federal class action challenging conditions of confinement in Puerto Rico=s prisons; Senior Policy Analyst for the Violence Institute of New Jersey; and staff attorney for the Legal Aid Society’s Juvenile Rights Division in the Bronx.
Under Professor Cohen’s direction, the CYJC has spearheaded several important policy and law reform initiatives. These include creation of Youth Justice New Jersey, a statewide juvenile justice reform coalition; successful amicus curiae efforts before the New Jersey Supreme Court; and appellate victories on behalf of individual clients that have given rise to systemic change.
In 2012, Professor Cohen received the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s “Champion for Change” award in recognition of her work with system-involved youth. She also is the recipient of the National Juvenile Defender Center’s Robert E. Shepherd Award for Excellence in Juvenile Defense and the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey’s Legal Leadership Award. Her scholarship explores topics ranging from juvenile justice and parole to legal ethics and lawyering theory, with a particular focus on the legal representation of adolescents.
Professor Cohen earned her B.A. summa cum laude from Rutgers College, where she was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, and her J.D. from Columbia Law School, where she was Managing Editor of the Columbia Human Rights Law Review.