Office of the Public Defender
Interning at the Public Defender’s Office this summer gave me a greater
variety of legal experience than I thought possible before I began. On
my second day in the office I went with my supervisor to watch her
petition the Virginia Supreme Court for an Appeal. While I would not get
to do anything quite so weighty myself, my summer experience notably included the opportunity to write a brief in an appeal to the Virginia
Court of Appeals that was argued recently.
I got a varied and in-depth experience doing research and writing, beyond writing the brief. I researched and prepared internal office memoranda on several different issues. I researched procedure and the relevant ethics issues involved when the Court was reluctant to pay for in-person translation services for a defendant that spoke an uncommon language. I was also able to delve into trial evidence issues, preparing a memorandum on whether the Commonwealth Attorney could introduce as evidence the verbal testimony of people who had viewed a security video tape after an alleged burglary, without introducing the video tape in question.
My time was not spent just doing research and writing this summer. I got a wealth of practical education as well. I was able to be in court nearly every day of the week. Not only did this help me learn trial procedure and tactics, but it also helped me learn the importance of other factors like client control and working with opposing counsel.
I got to carry out a good deal of client correspondence (subject to the supervision of my boss), explaining charges to clients. This also taught a variety of softer skills in the process, like how to deal with clients’ emotions, their relatives, and keeping them informed about the trial process. I was also able to interview clients for the purposes of bond hearings and conduct discovery. Almost all of the practical tips and information about the life of a practicing attorney would have been impossible to attain in law school.
My experience left me more committed to public service than ever, and with unique experience that could not have been possible without PSF.
Rebecca Van Derlaske
Norfolk Public Defender's Office
This past summer I had the occasion to work with the Norfolk Public Defender’s office. As someone who had came to law school with no professional legal experience the experiences I had this summer were invaluable.
As one of five interns in the office there was always something to do and someone to bounce ideas off of. In the mornings, myself and the other interns would shadow attorneys in court. If a public defender was not arguing that morning, or had already finished their docket for the day, we could observe other cases as well. Just being able to sit in the courtroom and absorb the process really helped to internalize what I had learned in my classes during my first year of law school. We observed many types of cases, from petty larceny, to a rape, to murder. And as a special treat, we were able to observe several jury trials over the summer and witness the jury selection process.
In the afternoons, we focused on legal research and writing. The Norfolk Public Defender’s office is divided into several departments, including a juvenile and domestic relations division, a misdemeanor division and a violent crimes/felony division. Over the summer, each of the interns had the opportunity to work on legal issues for each department. One of the most rewarding aspects of my summer was being able to see your work applied in court. Although not all the cases we worked on went to trial while we were in the office, it felt empowering to have an attorney read your memo, take your opinion of the law into account and witness it affect their strategy for court.
Lastly, this summer afforded me the opportunity to gain hands-on experience dealing with clients. Each week one of the attorneys would have a different intern shadow them to the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court when their docket was especially full. We helped coordinate the attorney with their clients and witnesses, and observe those interviews. Being able to hear the clients talk about the events that transpired, reminded me that each and every case we read about in law school involve real people, and the decisions made in court effect the rest of their lives. I greatly enjoyed my summer and appreciated the opportunity to apply and strengthen the skills I learned in my first year of law school.
This summer I worked as a law clerk at the State’s Attorney’s Office for
Montgomery County, Maryland, in their Citizen’s Complaint Bureau. Maryland is one of the few states, if not the only state, that allows citizens to raise criminal complaints without necessarily going through the police or other traditional channels. For a little over twelve weeks, I did everything from interview victim’s, prepare their cases, make recommendations to the Assistant State’s Attorney, work in the courtroom, on the prosecution side of course, to field trips to places like the county jail.
In terms of my work schedule, one day a week, I was specifically assigned the task of interviewing all of the victims that came in. I had one specific day where I was assigned to go to court with the Assistant State’s Attorneys, which was always most exciting and informative. I was also allowed to go observe court proceedings whenever one of my cases was on the docket or if the office was handing an interesting case. It was also interesting to see different attorney’s approaches and to figure out which strategies worked and which strategies left a lot to be desired.
In addition to working hard in the office, there were fun events planned for
the interns in the office. The State’s Attorney would come down and talk to us about interesting cases that he had tried and what impressions they had left upon him. We also were able to visit the county jail, which for anyone who knows me was an interesting and eye-opening experience. I was a little hesitant at first to go on this field trip because I just kept having flashbacks to movies ad television shows, where something went wrong in the jail or prison leading to people being held hostage. Luckily, nothing of the sort happened during our visit.
My public service job has really changed the way I view the criminal justice system and how I hope to use my degree after graduation. I found myself truly inspired by the work of State’s Attorney’s Office. The day that I went into the office for my interview, everyone that I spoke to stressed the fact that I would never be bored and that I would end my summer with amazing stories. They were most certainly not wrong. I
learned a lot about myself as well as the legal system. I also learned how difficult it is to be a State’s Attorney and how it is a complicated juggling act to attempt to achieve the right ends for all of the involved parties. When I applied for the job I was certain that the position would make for an interesting summer, but it was by far one of the greatest summers I have had. Additionally, I made some great new friends. I highly suggest to any of you reading this blog to seriously consider a public service summer job.
The best part about my internship was the opportunity I had to serve others. Many clients had preconceived notions about the quality of representation by a public defender. Some thought their attorney did not care enough to remember their name. Some felt that public defenders are not as concerned about their case as a private attorney would be. These notions are far from the truth. After working as an intern, I can honestly say each public defender is highly qualified and highly concerned with achieving the best result for their clients. I learned the importance of knowing the client's case and doing my research so that clients felt secure with their representation in whatever criminal matter alleged. This experience was rare and relevant.
Hampton Public Defender's Office
Like most of the rising 2L students, my summer has included many firsts: the first time I had to explain to a jailed client that I wasn’t his attorney, I just worked for his attorney; the first time I saw a court session started with a large bell being rung; and the first time a client accused me of trying to wire him (mental health evaluation request? check). Working in Hampton’s Public Defender Office since the beginning of July has been exciting – all those interviews of clients in jail – and has shown me how much routine work is required to be a good defense attorney. (If you want copies of most of the evidence against your client, you have to sit in the Commonwealth’s Attorney Office and hand write or type a copy of the documents.)
I’ve gotten a head start on learning about search and seizure law, about when an investigative detention becomes a custodial arrest and that being a good attorney does not mean you always prove the truth. Often it is about being able to make the best of a bad situation for your client. Sometimes that means suggesting they consider a plea agreement when the evidence is against them and sometimes that means realizing your client is likely to be your client again someday soon and not expecting them to change. It’s been a great opportunity to really understand what daily law practice will be like.