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WVU Law Professor, Director of the WV Innocence Project Clinic Serving the State and its People

Originally from Roanoke, West Virginia, Melissa Giggenbach said she saw the power lawyers had to protect people's rights, especially those who are the most vulnerable in our communities, and wanted to join those lawyers whose primary goals were to help people.  

Today, as West Virginia University College of Law’s Teaching Associate Professor and Director for the West Virginia Innocence Project Clinic (WVIP), Giggenbach does just that.  

WV Innocence Project Clinics director, staff and students

Pictured above: Professor and Director Melissa Giggenbach with WVU Law students and staff in the West Virginia Innocence Project Clinic  

Knowing she wanted to practice in West Virginia and serve people in her home state, attending the state’s only law school was the natural choice.  

“After law school, I settled in Morgantown and practiced criminal law in Monongalia and Preston Counties,” said Giggenbach. “When the opportunity arose to join the West Virginia Innocence Project Clinic, I was thrilled to accept the new challenge of working with students and focusing on post-conviction litigation exonerating those who were wrongfully convicted.”   

She also enjoyed the idea of joining the University community and working to further its land-grant mission. 

“WVU Law is a tight-knit community of faculty, staff, and students who all work together to help fellow West Virginians,” she said. “There are many opportunities to get involved outside of the classroom which gives us a chance to really get to know the students, their backgrounds, interests, and goals.”  

As a professor and director of WVIP, she’s inspiring the next generation of lawyers.  

“Our students are vibrant, intelligent, enthusiastic, and dedicated to learning the art of the practice of law,” said Giggenbach. “Working with the next generation of lawyers, I can help to instill in them the necessary ethical and professional values that push our profession forward.”   

In the WVIP Clinic, Giggenbach says she loves working with students and witnessing the passion they have to assist those who have been wrongfully convicted.  

“People who have been wrongfully convicted are truly powerless and, after numerous years behind bars, have lost hope. Our clinic gives that hope back,” she said.  

“Post-conviction litigation is difficult and frustrating at times because there may be no way to prove someone's innocence, no matter how deeply we believe in the case. When people are wrongfully convicted, there has been a critical failure in the criminal legal system. In my role as director, I can ensure that every year my students, both future defense attorneys and future prosecuting attorneys, know the importance of their roles in the system and will work to stop wrongful convictions from happening.” 

In recent years, WVIP Clinic students and staff have achieved two exonerations and secured 1.5M in compensation for someone who spent more than 14 years behind bars for a crime that forensic evidence later proved never happened.  

When asked about her favorite moments from this past year, Giggenbach said she had two: observing students’ professional progression and meeting with a former client.  

“Witnessing the clinic students' professional progression from students to attorneys is always gratifying,” she said. “Also, having a former client come by the clinic specifically to let me know that he's doing well on the outside and to say thank you. This visit was surprising because we were unable to prove his innocence. But just knowing that the students and staff of WVIP believed in him gave him the hope to carry on until he achieved parole.”   

As she prepares for the Fall 2024 semester, Giggenbach said she is most looking forward to working with a new group of law students and has several goals for herself and the clinic.   

“First, litigating several clients' innocence claims in court and second, securing permanent funding for the WVIP Clinic,” she said. “Currently, my staff salaries and money for critical needs like experts, transcripts, and travel are entirely grant and donation funded meaning the continuation of our mission is dependent on fluctuating financing.” 

As each year passes, there is one quote by Bryan Stevenson she lives by which is, “each of us is more than the worst thing we've been accused of doing.”  

To learn more about WVU Law’s WVIP Clinic and how you can support, please email Melissa Giggenbach at  

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