DC Public Defender

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DC Public Defender

Postby Anonymous User » Fri Mar 06, 2015 2:36 pm

So I'm on the PD track and worked at a bunch of PDs offices (current 2L). I have all of the offices lined up that I plan to apply to via OCI/EJW and all of the other normal routes but in chatting with my career services office the DC market came up and he told me its next to impossible to get hired at PDS. (note - I'm at T2 so I'm assuming thats partially why)

Anyway I was just wondering if anyone could speak to this - I understand the prestige of the office but what makes the hiring for 3Ls so extremely impossible as opposed to any other office? Just curious about thoughts

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Re: DC Public Defender

Postby Anonymous User » Sat Mar 07, 2015 7:06 pm

I understand the prestige of the office but what makes the hiring for 3Ls so extremely impossible as opposed to any other office


It's been 15 years since I took econ, but usually the varieties of scarce goods that have good prestige/reputation are in higher demand so they are more difficult to acquire. This applies to apples, cars, hotel rooms, law schools, potential mates, and entry-level positions in public defender offices as well.

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Re: DC Public Defender

Postby Anonymous User » Sat Mar 07, 2015 7:22 pm

i think almost anyone who wants to be a public defender wants to go to pds. in addition to the reputation, the pay is good and the caseload is manageable. they have three rounds of interviews, and they're known to ask really hard ethical questions and they give really hard hypos.

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Re: DC Public Defender

Postby Anonymous User » Sat Mar 07, 2015 9:59 pm

I also think PDS is alluring because of the atmosphere of the office. Everyone is incredibly smart and a fantastic at her job. It's just more enjoyable to be around intelligent and motivated coworkers.

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Re: DC Public Defender

Postby Anonymous User » Sun Mar 08, 2015 12:55 am

Pretty much everyone who wants to be a public defender wants PDS. The pay is phenomenal for a PD office (it's commensurate with the AUSA, which prosecutes pretty much all criminal cases in DC, so you're looking at 6 figures within 3-4 years, which is unheard of for a PD office except in Cali). When you consider that most people are out of biglaw within 5 years, you can see why this type of job would be a pretty reasonable alternative for otherwise biglaw types (unlike local PD's offices everywhere else). Moreover, everyone there is insanely smart, and the training you'll receive is incredible (they really work up each of their cases). Furthermore, the case load is really low. On the trial side, each attorney has about 30 cases. Compare that to the 150 cases each attorney has in PD's offices in places like Chicago. Similarly, the appellate attorneys file about 1 opening brief every 1-2 months. So they spend a TON of time working on each case. There's probably no other PD's office in the country where attorneys can spend that much time on a single case. So you really get to work up each case--their goal is providing exceptional representation to each client. I think the biggest thing that makes PDS awesome is the fact that Congress funds it, and Congress has more money that any state or municipality/county, so that really allows them to do a lot of things that other PD's offices can't. This also draws the Yale + LR + circuit court/SCOTUS types to apply there, so the competition is insanely fierce. PDS is also really prestige focused in a way that most USAOs aren't, so that makes it even really difficult for people who didn't either go to a top 3 law school, or graduate in the top 5% of a t14 (in other words, you can eventually get hired by a USAO even if you were a tier 3 law school grad without greatest grades; whereas, PDS will never hire you regardless of your experience at another awesome PD office, etc.)

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Re: DC Public Defender

Postby Anonymous User » Sun Mar 08, 2015 1:28 am

I was a law clerk at PDS over the summer. I think that there are multiple reasons why people want PDS - this is a list of things I've heard from PDS attorneys and observed myself.

-First, prestige. Lawyers are notorious for being prestige whores, and PDS is the gold standard in public defender offices. This is partially due to their selectivity now. Basically, they only hire AIII clerks (usually appellate clerks) from HYS or at the top of their class. It's a self-perpetuating cycle. They are prestigious because of who they hire and who they hire becomes more limited as their prestige increases.
-Second, the pay (and funding). The pay starts at above 70k, which is well above what even NYC offices pay. In addition, PDS is federally funded and it's budget is dramatically bigger than many state or local state PD offices. As a comparison, I work now at a state PD office in the south. We are literally fighting for computers that have software from the last decade. Our operating budget is so low that we are struggling for general office supplies. PDS, on the other hand, gives their attorneys work cell phones, what feels like unlimited resources (obviously, it is still limited, but compared to other offices it is amazing), and adequate investigator/social worker/administrative support.
-Third, the case load. PDS only handles felonies. All misdemeanors in the district are handled by CJA attorneys. PDS also has the ability to stop taking cases when they feel like that are at capacity - I've never seen that anywhere else, except when there is a conflict or something like that. After your time in juvenile, you are handling felony cases immediately and are up against AUSA (in the trial division at least, other divisions are different).
-Fourth, hours. Compared to many offices, the hours are more manageable, probably due to the manageable case load. This is not to say that the hours don't suck sometimes, especially when there is a major trial. But overall, they are better.
-Fifth, education. There is a massive amount of training done, both when you start and throughout your time in the office. There is a huge amount of support for new attorneys and continuing education.
-Sixth, the culture. Everyone there is smart, passionate, and talented. They support each other and bounce ideas off of each other. It is a great environment to work in overall. They are "true believers" and are also politically active. It is an intellectually stimulating environment.
- Seventh, location. Washington, D.C. is a great place to live and work as a lawyer. If you are politically passionate as many PDS attorneys are, it's even better.

Overall, I loved my time there and I can definitely see why it is so competitive. It is really next to impossible to be hired at PDS unless you are HYS or top 5-10% at T-14 or otherwise exceptional in some way. Almost all of their new hires are either clerks or Prettyman Fellows. Summering there is competitive, but even as a summer clerk, we all knew that it was going to be the holy grail to actually be hired after the summer.

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Re: DC Public Defender

Postby Anonymous User » Sun Mar 08, 2015 3:09 am

^ It's kind of shocking just how obsessed with prestige PDS is (for a PD office).

They literally prefer: HYS/t14 top 5% + AIII circuit court clerks + no other work experience

OVER

t14 + top 1/4 to 1/3 + having clerked for a judge at one of the courts that actually practice before (i.e. the DC superior court or DC CoA) + having 2-3 years of experience at a reputable PD's office doing work similar to what their attorneys do.

I know this for a fact because I know two people who PDS wouldn't even interview, despite having fallen into the latter category AND having strong recommendations from the judges they clerked for. The shocking part of this is that a judge who PDS practices before practically said, "This person is really good. I strongly recommend you hire him/her. I want to see him/her practice before me"; yet, PDS won't consider them because they weren't HYS grads, top 5% of a t14, and didn't have AIII clerkships. This is really unusual in most of the working world, but I see your point regarding the self-perpetuating cycle.

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Re: DC Public Defender

Postby Anonymous User » Sun Mar 08, 2015 1:52 pm

Former PDS law clerk. Not to say that much of the info in this thread isn't true, but there are some pretty blatant misconceptions being perpetuated here.

Yes, DC PDS is probably the best resourced and well regarded office in the nation. They have a high proportion of highly-credentialed attorneys from elite schools. But they have just as many attorneys who belie such characterization. Both the trial chief and deputy trial chief, for example, went to non-T14's and lacked either a Prettyman or a clerkship. There are many attorneys in the trial division who come from TTT and TTTT schools.

Point is, PDS is very selective, but their selectivity is hardly focused on superficial prestige criteria, as some in this topic are making it out to seem. They place overwhelming stock on your live-interview performances and on your demonstrated commitment to public interest law generally and indigent defense specifically. Many elite-credentialed law students meet these standards tremendously well, but so do many students from less well-pedigreed academic backgrounds, who are nevertheless well represented at PDS. PDS chooses TTTT students over HYSCCN students with regular frequency.

Appellate hiring is a little different, as appellate work is largely writing/research based. Still, it isn't the T-14 Article III clerk party that's being described here.

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Re: DC Public Defender

Postby Anonymous User » Sun Mar 08, 2015 7:04 pm

Anonymous User wrote:Former PDS law clerk. Not to say that much of the info in this thread isn't true, but there are some pretty blatant misconceptions being perpetuated here.

Yes, DC PDS is probably the best resourced and well regarded office in the nation. They have a high proportion of highly-credentialed attorneys from elite schools. But they have just as many attorneys who belie such characterization. Both the trial chief and deputy trial chief, for example, went to non-T14's and lacked either a Prettyman or a clerkship. There are many attorneys in the trial division who come from TTT and TTTT schools.

Point is, PDS is very selective, but their selectivity is hardly focused on superficial prestige criteria, as some in this topic are making it out to seem. They place overwhelming stock on your live-interview performances and on your demonstrated commitment to public interest law generally and indigent defense specifically. Many elite-credentialed law students meet these standards tremendously well, but so do many students from less well-pedigreed academic backgrounds, who are nevertheless well represented at PDS. PDS chooses TTTT students over HYSCCN students with regular frequency.

Appellate hiring is a little different, as appellate work is largely writing/research based. Still, it isn't the T-14 Article III clerk party that's being described here.


Just because some 1980s Cooley grads are biglaw partners, doesn't mean that you're going to graduate today as a TTT grad and work in biglaw. I think the same is true with PDS, and it's more of a T-14 Article III clerk party than you think, especially in the appellate group. I can't say much more without outing myself or others, but just look at the recent hires (a lot of them have Linkenin profiles and are members of the PDS group). You'll notice that PDS has recently (i.e. within the past year or two) hired attorneys who have no or little PD experience, and in some instances a 2L firm gig and/or an USAO internship. I think many reasonably intelligent people can spin their experience to show that they are committed to public interest/indigent defense, but I think of a "demonstrated interest" as being someone who actually worked as a PD at some point. If you actually know a little about who's in the applicant pool at PDS, you'll notice that there's no shortage of people who are really committed to PD work, but PDS does frequently hire HYS/T14 top 5% + AIII circuit court clerks over them. PDS is a very difficult organization to get into, and "commitment to public interest law generally and indigent defense specifically" alone isn't getting you there, especially in non-entry level position where they only interview a handful of people (i.e. pretty much most opening except the once a year trial attorney hirings that are intended for recent grads to apply to). In many ways, I think the once a year trial attorney screening process is more rigorous than other hirings, though, just because of how difficult the interview process is (but, on the other hand, it does give some non-HYS/t14 top 5% grads a shot (albeit, a very small one) that they might not otherwise have). Don't get me wrong, PDS is very, very much an idealist organization, but it's also a "T-14 Article III clerk party."

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Re: DC Public Defender

Postby Anonymous User » Sun Mar 08, 2015 9:42 pm

I agree that for at least the appellate division, there is a T-14/Article III clerk bias. I mean, the hiring director explicitly told all the law clerks this summer that they weren't going to be hired by appeals unless they have had a clerkship. But I think things are a little different in the trial division. PDS values insanely good trial skills/jury appeal over school prestige. I mean, the two most previous summer clerks that PDS just hired as entering trial attorneys are from schools that are far from T-14 (I think one is from like Iowa and one is from maybe a school in North Carolina that is not Duke).

Tl;dr not everyone PDS hired as an entering trial attorney this year is from a T-14.




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