Future Public Defender (I start next month) taking questions

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09042014
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Re: Future Public Defender (I start next month) taking questions

Postby 09042014 » Thu Aug 22, 2013 7:04 pm

Void wrote:
Desert Fox wrote:
Mount Elbrus wrote:
Desert Fox wrote:Would you feel personally responsible for future rapes a client commits because you got them off?


No. I did not get them off. Rather, the prosecution failed to prove to either a jury or a judge that the person was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. I would, however, take it very personally if a client was found guilty and then later exonerated because of DNA.


What if you, in your opinion, the state did prove it's case, but you convince a stupid jury anyway?


If the state fails to convince the jury, then it hasn't proven its case BRD. Doesn't matter whether the prosecution has proven the case in the opinion of the defense attorney. That would be a pretty lax standard of proof, bro.


We aren't talking about the law but your personal morality. This is a big reason why I think public defenders are the worst lawyers of us all. Even guys defending BP are better.

FuturePD
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Re: Future Public Defender (I start next month) taking questions

Postby FuturePD » Thu Aug 22, 2013 7:14 pm

Desert Fox wrote:
FuturePD wrote:
Desert Fox wrote:Would you feel personally responsible for future rapes a client commits because you got them off?


No.


Why not?


I don't feel personally responsible for things that other people do or for the choices they make. Sometimes other people do things that make me feel sad that something bad happened, or that make me feel angry because someone I've come to know has done something they shouldn't have done. But I am not responsible for the things that other people do, regardless of how I may be involved in those people's lives.

Desert Fox wrote:We aren't talking about the law but your personal morality. This is a big reason why I think public defenders are the worst lawyers of us all. Even guys defending BP are better.


Can you outline what sort of justice system you would prefer? That is, what, specifically, do you think should happen when one person accuses another person of a crime? How, specifically, would you propose that we decide what the outcomes of criminal accusations should be?
Last edited by FuturePD on Thu Aug 22, 2013 7:33 pm, edited 1 time in total.

gmoney71313
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Re: Future Public Defender (I start next month) taking questions

Postby gmoney71313 » Thu Aug 22, 2013 7:17 pm

sniff, sniff, sniff.... what is that oh so familiar smell, I just cannot get a grasp on it..... sniff, sniff..... ahhh, yes I know it quite well, must be a troll

Void
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Re: Future Public Defender (I start next month) taking questions

Postby Void » Thu Aug 22, 2013 7:27 pm

I keep trying to respond to desert fox's trolling and for some reason my long, rambling posts don't work. Long story short, some people don't get it. You're one of them. Enjoy doing something else with your career and have a great day.

FuturePD
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Re: Future Public Defender (I start next month) taking questions

Postby FuturePD » Thu Aug 22, 2013 8:13 pm

Mount Elbrus wrote:
There is nothing a person can do that, in my mind, justifies sending them to an American prison as they currently operate.


I am a Criminal Defense Attorney myself. Personally, I know of cases where the (now convicted) have done some absolutely horrific things, like videotape himself having sex with his wife and then re-create the exact same scenario, in detail, with his 8 year old daughter and videotape it. I know of another guy who raped an 8 year old girl, half way through he cut her open from just above her pubic bone to her neck and started chewing on her guts while still raping her.

Perhaps they can be rehabilitated, but there are some truly evil people in the world. Don't get me wrong, I have had plenty of clients that have been falsely accused and have felt great getting an acquiital, really great. It is good that you have the passion though, otherwise it can get very depressing.

Even when I know my client has done something really wrong, I can tell myself that I am his advocate and I am there to help him/her as best I can. Sometimes all I can do is get a more favorable sentence, other times I can get a confession thrown out (which was awesome because the confession was total BS and totally coerced!)


I don't believe in retribution. I mean, I know it exists, and it's a thing we do pretty much constantly in the criminal justice system. I just don't think it's a morally acceptable way for a civilized society to operate. Two wrongs don't make a right, no matter how wrong the first wrong was or how sympathetic the person is against whom it was committed.

If we're going to have a criminal justice system, its purpose should be to incapacitate those from whom other people need to be protected, and to rehabilitate people who need help in order to be able to leave peaceably in society. Vengeance is not a moral end for the state to pursue, and it's pretty clear that a good part of the way our system currently operates is designed to display public anger and enact public revenge. I think that's immoral, and I'm angry and sad that my government takes such action in my name.

Maybe someday, I'll feel differently. But I've worked on child sex abuse cases and homicide cases involving torture and dismembering a body, and that's how I feel now.

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bk1
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Re: Future Public Defender (I start next month) taking questions

Postby bk1 » Thu Aug 22, 2013 8:15 pm

Void wrote:I keep trying to respond to desert fox's trolling and for some reason my long, rambling posts don't work. Long story short, some people don't get it. You're one of them. Enjoy doing something else with your career and have a great day.

You keep hitting report post rather than respond.

bamfrosty
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Re: Future Public Defender (I start next month) taking questions

Postby bamfrosty » Thu Aug 22, 2013 8:24 pm

EDIT: too revealing
Last edited by bamfrosty on Wed Sep 10, 2014 7:17 pm, edited 1 time in total.

FuturePD
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Re: Future Public Defender (I start next month) taking questions

Postby FuturePD » Thu Aug 22, 2013 8:33 pm

bamfrosty wrote:I'm going to be starting a class/clinic reviewing prisoners' case files for the Innocence Project this fall semester at my UG. Would this help at all for PD hiring down the road?


Sounds good to me. It both shows that you have the right motivation and gives you some useful knowledge about how trials work that other law students won't have. At the very least, it'll be something concrete to talk about in your interview for your first 1L internships, which will give you a leg up on other candidates who don't have relevant pre-law school experiences. Every little bit helps.

Void
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Re: Future Public Defender (I start next month) taking questions

Postby Void » Thu Aug 22, 2013 9:15 pm

bk1 wrote:
Void wrote:I keep trying to respond to desert fox's trolling and for some reason my long, rambling posts don't work. Long story short, some people don't get it. You're one of them. Enjoy doing something else with your career and have a great day.

You keep hitting report post rather than respond.


Oops- sorry! That must have been annoying and confusing for mods! I'm not so precise with the old iphone.

kosullivan23
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Re: Future Public Defender (I start next month) taking questions

Postby kosullivan23 » Thu Aug 22, 2013 9:45 pm

FuturePD wrote:
Void wrote:
dextermorgan wrote:I have similar goals. I am trying to decide between participating in moot court or volunteering. The conventional wisdom is that moot court helps you out for PD jobs. Do you have any input on that?


I hope OP doesn't think I'm usurping. In my opinion, moot court is less helpful than actual courtroom experience- even just doing arraignments and such. Moot court is practicing appellate skills exclusively, which don't actually correlate much to what you'd be doing as an entry level PD. I mean it's definitely good experience and gives you great practice at public speaking and thinking on your feet, but if you had to choose between the two, real trial-level internship experience will probably be more valuable. I'm interested to see what OP has to say about this though.


I absolutely agree. I'd rank various activities as follows, in (very rough, totally off-the-cuff) order from most to least helpful in getting a PD gig (based both on my own experience and from talking to folks on hiring committees at a half dozen offices around the country):

  • Criminal defense clinic where you get to represent clients in court
  • Criminal defense internship (preferably more than one at different offices) where you get to represent clients in court (I put clinic over internship because they're more likely to entail formal training, and many are longer in duration, but these two might be pretty much equal.)
  • Any other criminal defense experience (an appellate clinic that was all writing, an internship where you only worked out of court, etc.)
  • Pre-law work experience with relevant populations (usually poor people of color, but also the mentally ill, at-risk kids, etc.)
  • Internships/clinics/volunteer work with relevant populations and/or that get you into court
  • Mock Trial/Trial Practice classes
  • Moot Court/ADR (fake trials are better than fake not-trials)
  • Other volunteer work/general do-gooder stuff (except for the stuff specifically mentioned below. Helping puppies=OK, helping rape victims=potentially problematic.)
  • Other clinics
  • Journal (preferably a criminal journal, but ultimately, this doesn't matter much at all, and if you seem to have spent all your time working on journal, it can actually be a negative, since that's time you could have spent bolstering your other credentials.)
  • Public speaking/debate/acting experience. Anything that says that you won't pee your pants the first time you get up in front of a jury.
  • Campus leadership (SBA, "Criminal Law Society," other orgs primarily working for the benefit of the school.)
  • Really Good Grades (I'd say probably top 10% is impressive, but 25th percentile is the same as 75th percentile as long as you graduate. Though, one guy did tell me that he's suspicious of people with exceptional grades, because all that time they spent studying torts would have been better spent volunteering at the local PD.)

And here are things that might hurt you, or that, at the very least, that you should expect to have to explain at some point in an interview, because someone will ask you why you did that, in no particular order, except that the first one is the worst:

  • Anything having to do with prosecution. If you've actually worked at a prosecutor's office, expect an auto-ding from all the top offices unless you have some truly stellar story in your cover letter about how you uncovered a massive corruption scandal and freed a bunch of wrongly convicted prisoners, and it changed your life forever, and now you believe prosecutors are the scum of the earth. At some non-"true believer" offices, you may be able to get away with a stint at the DA's office if you just say you made a mistake and now you know better. Prosecution clinic might be explainable if it was the only clinic your school had, but even then, you have to be really upset at the idea that you participated in putting people in jail. Basically, avoid this stuff if you can, because it'll be a really big strike against you.
  • Victims' rights work (e.g., advocate for battered women, rape crisis counselor.) It's too close to helping prosecutors, and they worry that you'll empathize too much with complainants.
  • Failing to take crim law, crim pro, evidence, trial ad, or some other core class that is very important to criminal litigation. Especially if you took, for example, a whole bunch of tax classes instead, because it indicates that maybe PD wasn't your first choice.
  • BigLaw SA (this will be a big deal some places, because it shows that you sold out for money, or so the thinking goes).
  • If your school has a clinic, and you didn't do it.
  • If your city has a good PD office, and you didn't work there at some point, especially during the school year, and you didn't do something obviously better instead.

The bottom line is that most offices seem to be looking for two things: demonstrated ability to actually do the work of representing indigent defendants, and an absolute, unwavering commitment to being a PD over anything else you could have done with your time. That means that they want you to have experience doing the work (and corresponding references who can say you did a good job at it), and a resume and interview persona that says this is all you've wanted to do ever since you found out that it existed. Everything you do in law school should have a purpose that advances those goals.



Thanks for all this great info! I'm getting ready to apply to law schools this fall and the only job I want after graduating is at a public defender's office. I've already spent a fairly significant amount of time interning as an investigator for a big city PD, and helped with intake interviewing at a local small town PD office near my college. I really have enjoyed the work and couldn't imagine any other job I'd want to have. I'm planning on applying to most of the t14 schools from NYU down that have a criminal defense clinic where I could represent clients in court and I've been comparing some of the different offerings these schools have and just have a few questions:

1. Would it be a significant advantage for PD hiring to go to a school where you can participate in a criminal defense (live client representation) clinic 2L year, intern at a PD office where you get court experience summer before 3L, and then maybe extern for the local PD office 3L? As opposed to going to a school where you can only do capital post conviction or innocence project clinic 2L, intern at PD office 3L summer, and then do criminal defense clinic 3L year?

2. Similar question, but do you think there'd be any difference going to a school where the criminal defense clinic lasts for a year instead of just a semester?

3. I've noticed that some schools specifically offer a course in criminal trial advocacy while other schools just have a general trial ad course that I guess covers both criminal and civil, do you think there's any difference between these for hiring purposes?

4. I've also noticed that some of the schools I'm looking at in larger metropolitan areas have student organizations where 1L students can get some experience representing live clients in school suspension hearings, unemployment hearings, etc. whereas it seems some of the other schools in more rural areas don't necessarily have these organizations where students can provide direct representation to disadvantaged populations. Do you think this should be also be a significant factor in terms of making a decision on what school to attend?

5. Lastly, just wondering if you know of any PD offices where summer interns after 1L year are allowed to get any in court experience?

Thank you very much for starting this thread and taking the time to answer these questions!

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bk1
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Re: Future Public Defender (I start next month) taking questions

Postby bk1 » Thu Aug 22, 2013 9:50 pm

Void wrote:
bk1 wrote:
Void wrote:I keep trying to respond to desert fox's trolling and for some reason my long, rambling posts don't work. Long story short, some people don't get it. You're one of them. Enjoy doing something else with your career and have a great day.

You keep hitting report post rather than respond.


Oops- sorry! That must have been annoying and confusing for mods! I'm not so precise with the old iphone.

Posts can only be reported once so it was fine. It also happens more often than you'd think so we're used to spotting it.

FuturePD
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Re: Future Public Defender (I start next month) taking questions

Postby FuturePD » Thu Aug 22, 2013 10:35 pm

kosullivan23 wrote: . . . just have a few questions . . .


When I was a 1L, someone gave me some really good advice, which was that if you want to get a job at a good PD office, you need to be, basically, one of the top 250 PD candidates across the country who come on the job market in your year. All of the candidates for jobs at the top offices are going to have clinical experience, and PD internships, and lots of other PI/crim stuff on their resumes. I may have created a false impression by making an ordered list that purported to rank experiences from best to worst that somehow if you do the exact right combination of things, you'll get exactly what you want. But PI hiring isn't like OCI. It's not a formula where having the right grades/journal/moot/whatever guarantees that you'll grab the golden ring. And a lot of the stuff I tried to draw distinctions between is probably all one big morass of stuff that will be vaguely good, but is basically the job equivalent of a "soft" factor. Just like, in admissions, you basically have LSAT > GPA > everything else, in PD hiring, it may well be something like in-court criminal experience in a well-regarded office/school clinic > other criminal/indigent client/in-court experience > everything else. All of the candidates for jobs at the top offices are going to have all of those things in spades, so what's really going to decide whether you or the other guy gets the job is things like references and personality.

I think that for most of the questions you've asked, it's probably, on balance, about the same either way, and it'll depend on what you do with those experiences. And, as with all of this, to a large degree, it'll just depend on luck and chemistry. Once you've made relatively good choices about how to structure your law school experience, based on sound reasoning, there's really no way to know whether a different, also relatively good choice would have turned out better. You just have to take a deep breath, make a choice, and then pursue every possible opportunity available to you going forward. Then you have to trust that you're good enough that you'll impress the hell out of people and that they'll want to help you, and eventually, hire you.

1. This, for example, is a situation where I don't think these factors should be dispositive. I think that both of those sound like perfectly fine options, and there are probably other factors that can help you decide between the schools (PI career services support; LRAP/financial aid; how desirable the area is to you, both to live in for three years and as a place to build ties to that might make you a stronger candidate for jobs in that area; etc.)

2. A year might be better, mostly because it gives you a better chance of actually getting a case to trial, but again, weigh that against other factors. Also, ask whether the semester is a hard limit. A lot schools actually allow the top clinical students to do a second semester, or at the very least, to keep their cases after the semester ends.

3. I can't see this mattering. Only one place I applied ever actually asked for my transcript, so they'd likely never know. What I will say is that you might want to look into whether having a criminal trial ad course is a signal that the school has other strong crim-specific resources. It may or it may not, but it's worth inquiring.

4. Not a significant factor, no. It's good experience, and it's nice to have the opportunity, but it's not nearly as important as lots of other things. Wherever you go, do some sort of volunteer work with relevant populations as a 1L, but I seriously doubt that whether you did administrative hearings as a 1L will ever be a deciding factor.

5. I think there are a few where you can do pretty minor stuff. In Philly, I think the 1L interns do video arraignments, which means that you might get to do a bail argument every now and again. The problem is that as a 1L, you won't have taken evidence, which means that you're largely useless for any real trial work. Most state bars realize that, and so they don't let 1Ls practice. But I'm sure there are exceptions, and it certainly doesn't hurt to ask, though you should have some humility about the fact that you don't really know anything.

I can say definitively that you should do a crim clinic if you can, and you should do as many other PD internships as you can, but the bottom line is that you need to show that you're committed to this work and talented at this work, and how exactly you show that is going to be some combination of your experiences and your personality. Whether your clinic was 2L or 3L year, or what kinds of fake cases you argued in your trial ad class, aren't going to get you the interview, and they're certainly not going to convince the interviewers that you're the best possible new PD they could hire. They're going to pick you (or not) for a job based on a couple of pieces of paper and a couple of hours of interviewing you, at most. So your goal, throughout law school, is to get yourself a pedigree on paper that makes them think, "we should really talk to her, because she seems like our kind of people," and then be able to prove when you get to the interview that you actually are their kind of people.

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Re: Future Public Defender (I start next month) taking questions

Postby Void » Thu Aug 22, 2013 10:52 pm

I agree with all of the above. It is great and necessary to get all that stuff on your resume but another reason for exposing yourself to these experiences is so you can actually carry on a conversation with the public defenders who will be interviewing you and prove not only that you know a thing or two about crim law and trial practice but - perhaps more importantly - that you will treat clients ethically and with respect, that you will do everything in your power to protect your clients, that you understand the kinds of moral, societal, and caseload pressure you'll be under; and that you will be a good/likeable/energetic/helpful/creative person to work with. So, yeah- it's entirely possible to spend 3+ years crafting a perfect PD resume and then have a lot of trouble finding work if you aren't the right fit.

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Re: Future Public Defender (I start next month) taking questions

Postby FuturePD » Thu Aug 22, 2013 11:29 pm

Void wrote:I agree with all of the above. It is great and necessary to get all that stuff on your resume but another reason for exposing yourself to these experiences is so you can actually carry on a conversation with the public defenders who will be interviewing you and prove not only that you know a thing or two about crim law and trial practice but - perhaps more importantly - that you will treat clients ethically and with respect, that you will do everything in your power to protect your clients, that you understand the kinds of moral, societal, and caseload pressure you'll be under; and that you will be a good/likeable/energetic/helpful/creative person to work with. So, yeah- it's entirely possible to spend 3+ years crafting a perfect PD resume and then have a lot of trouble finding work if you aren't the right fit.


I agree with this, 100%. I'll also say, because I'm beginning to feel a little calculating, that the reason for trying to get all of these experiences (and correspondingly, the reason that hiring committees care about them) is more than just signaling. A really good clinic or internship will teach you invaluable things about how to be a good PD. Having the chance to watch really stellar attorneys in court and talk about strategy with them and see how they interact with their clients will teach you how to do those things. Having your first trial with someone standing next to you who knows how to back you up and when to let you do it on your own is the best possible way to start trying cases. Yes, there's a huge signaling function for a lot of this stuff (for example, I'm not saying you wouldn't learn something useful from working for a prosecutor; I'm saying that it sends a bad message about who you are and where your priorities lie). But the really important thing, and the thing you'll talk about in interviews, is using your three years of law school--years that a lot of people waste taking bar classes and competing in fake appellate argument tournaments and helping professors research articles about space law--to actually learn things and have experiences and learn from mistakes that will make you a better PD in the long run. And when you talk about all of that in your job interviews, it'll be genuine, and that will come through, too.

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SaintsTheMetal
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Re: Future Public Defender (I start next month) taking questions

Postby SaintsTheMetal » Sun Aug 25, 2013 4:43 am

Did you guys, or do you, have any interest in private practice criminal defense? (Obviously) everyone likes to make money and I'm sure is one of the top reason that 75+% (or whatever %) of law students either take their OCI offers or go clerk to get more big firm offers. Would you ever consider opening your own shop down the road with some experience, or joining up with a smaller defense firm?

Similarly, (coming from a clueless fresh 1L) would it be similar, or even feasible, to combine the large firm work and the criminal defense passion by working in a firm doing White Collar Crime? I realize this may be out of your area of expertise but it's something I've tried to look into as much as possible. I've heard that a lot of these people have prosecutor experience, but is this necessary? There is absolutely no way I could ever prosecute... Would working in a large firm doing this kind of work even provide any actually marketable skills to facilitate making the jump to small firm/PD/whatever later on?

If nothing else, I'd imagine you could bank a significant amount of capital from a large firm, assuming reasonable debt load, and still leave no worse of a litigator than when you graduated... Finally, would this kind of work, or even an SA at a large firm like this, be a big red mark on your resume...alienating them, or "selling out" or whatever?

TYIA!

Void
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Re: Future Public Defender (I start next month) taking questions

Postby Void » Sun Aug 25, 2013 9:57 am

SaintsTheMetal wrote:Did you guys, or do you, have any interest in private practice criminal defense? (Obviously) everyone likes to make money and I'm sure is one of the top reason that 75+% (or whatever %) of law students either take their OCI offers or go clerk to get more big firm offers. Would you ever consider opening your own shop down the road with some experience, or joining up with a smaller defense firm?

Similarly, (coming from a clueless fresh 1L) would it be similar, or even feasible, to combine the large firm work and the criminal defense passion by working in a firm doing White Collar Crime? I realize this may be out of your area of expertise but it's something I've tried to look into as much as possible. I've heard that a lot of these people have prosecutor experience, but is this necessary? There is absolutely no way I could ever prosecute... Would working in a large firm doing this kind of work even provide any actually marketable skills to facilitate making the jump to small firm/PD/whatever later on?

If nothing else, I'd imagine you could bank a significant amount of capital from a large firm, assuming reasonable debt load, and still leave no worse of a litigator than when you graduated... Finally, would this kind of work, or even an SA at a large firm like this, be a big red mark on your resume...alienating them, or "selling out" or whatever?

TYIA!


Personally, no- I am not interested in private defense work. My interest in being a PD stems more from a desire to serve the indigent than from an interest in criminal law. If I couldn't land a PD job I would rather work at Legal Aid or similar. I don't think there's anything wrong with wanting to earn money but if you want to be a PD I would deemphasize this attitude in your application and interviews- as OP and I have said, PD employers' main concern is not whether you're interested in criminal law or even criminal defense generally- it's whether you have a demonstrated passion for helping the most disadvantaged members of society under circumstances when nobody else will. Saying "I would love to go private one day" might read almost the same as "I just enjoy criminal law" which screams "I wouldn't mind being a DA- just whatever criminal law job I can land first will be sufficient" which is not a good look in a PD interview.

More broadly, it's my understanding private criminal defense is a tough racket to get into and probably not a great/dependable part of your 10-year plan. It's similar to personal injury in that the most successful appear to be those who can maximize their PR/advertising and minimize their rates. It's also VERY tough to find clients because statistically there just aren't a lot of crimes committed by people who can actually afford an attorney. Then there's the very real problem of getting your money from tour client- especially if they end up in jail. This is such a big issue that most privates factor it in as an operating cost. So you might work an entire trial and then never get paid. And what can you do about it? Sue your currently incarcerated client?

Sure, there are some very wealthy and successful private criminal attorneys and a few who managed to jump on to a firm's crim department but it's still one of the more difficult fields to survive in

It's also my understanding that "white collar crime" is the white whale of criminal defense attorneys- sure, it exists and lots of privates want it (because the client can and probably will actually pay) but there is just so little of it that it's nearly impossible to get involved. I think focusing on finding this kind of work would be as difficult as landing not only biglaw, but a specialized field within biglaw.

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A. Nony Mouse
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Re: Future Public Defender (I start next month) taking questions

Postby A. Nony Mouse » Sun Aug 25, 2013 10:45 am

Interestingly, in my current (small) market, there are quite a few private criminal defense attorneys who were prosecutors and switched sides after ~10 years or so. And there are quite a lot of small private criminal defense shops. On the one hand, yeah, a lot of people who get accused of crimes can't pay. But because the federal public defender system isn't as developed as the state, a lot of these attorneys get appointed to represent defendants in federal court (you get a CJA appointment), so get paid by the US government and still serve indigent clients. It's not something easy to do coming straight out of school because you have to have a certain amount of experience to get an appointment, but it exists. Most of these attorneys then do a mix of CJA work and private work.

My impression of white collar work is that the big firms that handle it like to hire former AUSAs who've prosecuted white collar crime. But that's just an impression.

Void
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Re: Future Public Defender (I start next month) taking questions

Postby Void » Sun Aug 25, 2013 11:03 am

A. Nony Mouse wrote:Interestingly, in my current (small) market, there are quite a few private criminal defense attorneys who were prosecutors and switched sides after ~10 years or so. And there are quite a lot of small private criminal defense shops. On the one hand, yeah, a lot of people who get accused of crimes can't pay. But because the federal public defender system isn't as developed as the state, a lot of these attorneys get appointed to represent defendants in federal court (you get a CJA appointment), so get paid by the US government and still serve indigent clients. It's not something easy to do coming straight out of school because you have to have a certain amount of experience to get an appointment, but it exists. Most of these attorneys then do a mix of CJA work and private work.

My impression of white collar work is that the big firms that handle it like to hire former AUSAs who've prosecuted white collar crime. But that's just an impression.


There are lots of private criminal defense attorneys around here too, and good point about private assigned counsel- depending on your state system you can also get work as "assigned counsel" or "special public defender" by taking PD cases that conflict out of the PD's office (like whenever there are codefendants or where a former client is an adverse witness, etc). But I know lots of those guys around me, and the younger ones who are working right out of school are all barely staying afloat or are already underwater and just waiting for the hammer to drop. So yeah, it's possible to do it but like I said it seems to be a similar career choice to going into personal injury work- but with fewer cases and fewer paying clients.

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Re: Future Public Defender (I start next month) taking questions

Postby FuturePD » Sun Aug 25, 2013 11:05 am

SaintsTheMetal wrote:Did you guys, or do you, have any interest in private practice criminal defense? (Obviously) everyone likes to make money and I'm sure is one of the top reason that 75+% (or whatever %) of law students either take their OCI offers or go clerk to get more big firm offers. Would you ever consider opening your own shop down the road with some experience, or joining up with a smaller defense firm?

Nope, I've never had any interest in private criminal defense. I'm not especially financially motivated (outside of being able to pay my bills, of course), and that's certainly not my reason for doing this work. And opening your own firm or being part of a small firm involves a huge amount of small business-type work I've never had any interest in: marketing, personnel management, finance, etc. I've never wanted to be a small business owner or a manager, and so I don't want to be one as an attorney, either. And most of the private criminal defense attorneys aren't doing much better financially than the PDs. Plus, they have a reputation in many places as being pretty crappy lawyers, the meet-em-and-plead-em types, because they can't afford to do real investigations or a lot of trials. No thanks. I'd rather be on salary (no matter how small the salary) and avoid that hassle.

SaintsTheMetal wrote:Similarly, (coming from a clueless fresh 1L) would it be similar, or even feasible, to combine the large firm work and the criminal defense passion by working in a firm doing White Collar Crime? I realize this may be out of your area of expertise but it's something I've tried to look into as much as possible. I've heard that a lot of these people have prosecutor experience, but is this necessary? There is absolutely no way I could ever prosecute... Would working in a large firm doing this kind of work even provide any actually marketable skills to facilitate making the jump to small firm/PD/whatever later on?

I think that what you're describing is unrealistic. First, I know almost nothing about BigLaw (seriously, what do those lawyers even do all day? Like, they come in at 7 am, sit down at their desks, turn on their computers, and do... what?). However, my understanding is that white collar defense at a firm looks about as much like indigent criminal defense as "litigation" at a firm looks like landlord-tenant court. You are unlikely to see the inside of a courtroom any time soon, most of your work will involve reviewing documents and writing memos, and you'll be lucky if you even ever get to meet the client. That's my understanding of how it works. It certainly will not give you any sort of a leg up on becoming a courtroom lawyer, of any kind, down the line.

SaintsTheMetal wrote:If nothing else, I'd imagine you could bank a significant amount of capital from a large firm, assuming reasonable debt load, and still leave no worse of a litigator than when you graduated... Finally, would this kind of work, or even an SA at a large firm like this, be a big red mark on your resume...alienating them, or "selling out" or whatever?

Yes, spending time at a firm, even if you were in a "criminal" division of the firm, will be a big fat red flag if you later try to move to PD. I have a friend who took a clerkship, then a firm job (for the bonus), and after a year, tried to jump ship to a PD. He was HYS, had previous experience as a PD investigator, and had done everything right during law school, resume-wise. He applied for every open entry-level PD job in the country. He got two interviews. At both, he was asked, essentially, "if you want to be a PD so badly, why didn't you just become one? Why do you care more about money than about doing this work?" He didn't get either job. He finally ended up taking an unpaid position at a PD's office and was hired there after a year. He's an awesome PD. But he very nearly didn't get to become one. And this was in 2005. My suspicion is that today, he wouldn't have even been able to get that unpaid job.

Look, if you want to do BigLaw, do BigLaw. Wanting financial stability, wanting to pay down your student loans--those things don't make you a bad person. But, especially in this economy, you likely can't have it both ways. You can't claim to have the unwavering commitment to indigent defense that is necessary to get a job as a PD, and also waver in that commitment by taking some other job for the money (and yes, that includes an SA, because you need to be spending your 2L summer at a PD office where you can get into court). For every open job, there are 10 law students who want to do this work, and nothing but this work, and are willing to live in Podunk and eat ramen to do it. Because they love it and care about it more than they care about paying off their loans, or whatever. And they'll have better skills than you, the potential 3rd year associate lateral, because their skills won't be rusty, because they'll have more courtroom experience, and because they'll have put everything they have into becoming the best possible PDs they can be.

I think that if you actually want to be a PD, you have to put your all into becoming a PD. I think that the most likely outcome of you joining a firm with the intention of becoming a PD later is that you will never become a PD. You'll either end up with "golden handcuffs" and be unable to stomach taking an 80% paycut in a few years to go handle a hundred misdemeanor cases at a time, or you'll be unable to get a job as a PD because you'll be competing against kids who are better than you are and who haven't sold out. Could it happen? Possibly. But I'd put this plan in the same category as "I'll take a big scholarship at a crappy law school, be first in my class 1L year, and then transfer to Yale."

Void
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Re: Future Public Defender (I start next month) taking questions

Postby Void » Sun Aug 25, 2013 11:18 am

FuturePD wrote:Yes, spending time at a firm, even if you were in a "criminal" division of the firm, will be a big fat red flag if you later try to move to PD. I have a friend who took a clerkship, then a firm job (for the bonus), and after a year, tried to jump ship to a PD. He was HYS, had previous experience as a PD investigator, and had done everything right during law school, resume-wise. He applied for every open entry-level PD job in the country. He got two interviews. At both, he was asked, essentially, "if you want to be a PD so badly, why didn't you just become one? Why do you care more about money than about doing this work?" He didn't get either job. He finally ended up taking an unpaid position at a PD's office and was hired there after a year. He's an awesome PD. But he very nearly didn't get to become one. And this was in 2005. My suspicion is that today, he wouldn't have even been able to get that unpaid.


This. I even had to justify my good grades in interviews- twice I was asked "with your class rank why aren't you trying for a law firm job?" If I had any firm experience on my resume, that question probably would have sunk me.

Like FuturePD said, Public Defender isn't a fallback career, or a springboard to something else. You'll be competing with applicants who have geared their entire resume towards working as a PD and who are also excellent students at great schools, and the primary focus of your interviewers will be testing your dedication.

AnonDane
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Re: Future Public Defender (I start next month) taking questions

Postby AnonDane » Sun Sep 01, 2013 3:49 pm

Just wanted to first say thank you for this awesome thread -- I'm always looking for PD info on TLS, but there's really not a lot out there.

I'm a rising 2L with a question about how to weigh summer options (granted I have no offers yet, but who knows how long this thread will be around!). I've sent out applications, but I'm torn between what type of experience I should preference. I've heard great things from friends who've worked at the more "prestigious" PD offices (think DC/NYC) especially in terms of quality of mentorship, but I'm personally really interested in offices that allow 2Ls to carry a caseload and to do, at a minimum, bench trials with the possibility of jury trials. The two "brandname" offices, while potentially opening doors, do not really allow interns to stand up in court. Given that I did capital defense work this past summer (I did work on a trial and a hearing, but obviously I didn't do any of the actual arguing), which experience would you recommend for 2L summer -- both for my own skills as a PD and for hiring competitiveness? My school does offer a yearlong 3L PD clinic, which I'll be participating in, and generally you get to do at least one trial, but that will be after I've already started interviewing for post-grad jobs.

I also have a more specific question, but I'd rather not share too much identifying information. If PM'ing was a possibility, I'd really appreciate it!

Thanks again for this great thread :)

Stinson
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Re: Future Public Defender (I start next month) taking questions

Postby Stinson » Sun Sep 01, 2013 7:17 pm

I've been back and forth a little bit over whether to respond in this thread. I don't know whether DF is trolling as people say because, whatever the tone, his are not criticisms I would dismiss out of hand. Nor am I ignorant of the fact that the majority of this thread has been dedicated to the mechanics of obtaining a particular job, and I have no desire to throw a flame war into the middle of something people find helpful.

No less, someone interested in a job ought to give thought to the morals of it, and less so - but still some - to what others may think of that work. And I think as someone whose family has been ripped apart by violent crime - murder in my particular case - I might have something of value to add to the thoughts of would-be PD's. The attitude towards the work and towards clients communicated by the PD's in this thread is consistent with my experience with people in that field - the defenders of the murderer included - and I think it deserves some pushback here beyond gentle questioning.

I would start by agreeing with much of the tenor of what has been said - too many people go to jail for too long, for having done too little. Drug laws in particular are over-harsh, over-punished, and applied unevenly, with the worst-off among us bearing the brunt. That same disparity echoes through nearly all categories of crime, and much of what does great damage across society to a great many people - think big-bank shenanigans - too often goes unpunished, or only symbolically so.

It is likewise true that the conditions of many prisons should shame a decent society. Our houses of incarceration lie within an untenable cycle of tough-on-crime politicians, powerful guards' unions, greedy contractors, and a public too-often braying for vengeance. The system is long on wrong incentives and short on compassion. Some of its features - extended solitary confinement, to give an example - we would call torture if we were not ourselves doing the torturing. And every day we send poor young men to fill the beds, entering mere petty criminals and emerging hardened men, purposely cut out of productive society once they emerge.

Knowing the meat grinder lying on the other side of "guilty!", it is not hard to understand why idealistic people, particularly those with an interest in helping the poor, would want to interpose themselves in the middle. Here is born the attitude that the justice system is so terrible that no one deserves to be subjected to it, voiced already by the original poster here. It is idealistic, it is understandable, but it is wrong.

There are people standing behind the "public anger" OP so quickly dismisses. Violent crimes happen every day wholly unmarked by the public at large, but behind every one there is a victim or a family that is not merely vaguely angry at a mugshot on television, but at a real, living person who has done them irreparable wrong. Whatever its faults, the justice system is the only recourse society offers this group. In my case, we met often with the prosecutor and went over the case. We sat behind here for the entire trial, and we hugged it when it was done. We had no illusions that the prosecutor was our attorney - she was the state's - but she was still fighting for us.

Was it retribution we wanted? That's a hard question. We definitely wanted incapacitation. I and everyone else wanted the guilty man - and the evidence, despite the PD's farcical conspiracy theories and vicious, unsubstantiated accusations of other people in the family, left no doubt of guilt - to be locked away so that he could never harm another human being. As to retribution, I don't know. Is punishing a murder mere "retribution"? If it were, would that be wrong? When you lose a loved one there is no chance for justice, because nothing will restore what was taken. In PD cases by definition even the far inferior option of taking the defendant's money is not available, for he has none. That doesn't mean I don't think the defendant should be humanely treated, but were he never to have another happy thought, were he to live the rest of his days in joyless boredom and discomfort that would be fair in my eyes. Against the taking of a human life, I don't see how it would be unjust.

OP asked DF what kind of system he would have. Guilt without defense? I would ask a similar question. How would you have incapacitation without punishment? Make prisons nicer places maybe, focus more on rehabilitation and less on long sentences. But PD's don't do that. They don't fix prisons or work with convicts to rehabilitate them. They work to stop people who should be incapacitated from being incapacitated. That's the whole job. That is the plain and simple truth, which is why when it was brought up the PD's here reached immediately for their grab bag of facile hand-washes. "I'm not responsible for their choices. I'm not responsible if someone I get off commits a crime." Except you are. You play a part in that, and you can try to deny it, or blame the prosecution - whose burden is far higher than yours - but at the end of the day the functional aims of your efforts are allowing child molesters and rapists to escape incapacitation for what they did. You can be "angry" about the choices they may later make all you want, except that comes off a bit disingenuous when you have more reason than most to know they are likely to make that choice, and you helped facilitate them making it.

Yes, comes the retort, that happens, but the point is to help innocent people, not guilty ones. The guilty ones are collateral damage. I suppose there we have to agree to disagree. It isn't my view that prosecutors routinely bring frivolous charges against innocent people for cases of murder and rape. I believe some prosecutors like to pad up their conviction numbers by ramming through easy drug cases, because they take no time and people usually just plead to them. And I don't doubt in some cases prosecutors will bring a murder or rape charge because someone is calling for blood, and they capitulate. But I think the majority of prosecutors take serious crimes seriously, and work to bring cases against the right person when the crime is vicious.

I think when all you have is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail. Dismantling the axis of money and politics that has created our prison system cannot be done in a courtroom, but rather through the mess, apathy, and hard realities of the political process. It may well be too daunting to change. Thus defending the poor is the hammer we have. But we should not confuse ourselves that helping the guilty - or indeed, even the innocent - will change anything about prisons. They will remain full, because for every murderer a PD gets off a prosecutor can pull five or six dark-skinned kids off of a street corner and charge them with possession of whatever. They will remain full, because if the law gets too few criminals it will legislate more.

Anyway, I don't mean to hijack. I felt the need to say something. The victim perspective, I have come to learn, is of little interest to the criminal justice system. In my perfect world, distinct I think from OP's, that is what I would change. As it is, that perspective is too often un-voiced, and I thought it important for would-be young PD's to hear.

If nothing else, I would encourage our future PD's to be introspective, and to try to take pride in their conduct. The skeptical attitude about the justice system can lead, in my personal experience, to ends-justify-the-means conduct of which I, as an attorney, would not be proud. Convinced all the world is arrayed against them, it leads once well-meaning people to say things they know are untrue, to lash out at families who have done nothing wrong, and to confuse zeal with the truth. Absolutely bring your enthusiasm, but do not leave your honor behind.

Void
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Re: Future Public Defender (I start next month) taking questions

Postby Void » Sun Sep 01, 2013 9:05 pm

I think the above post is an excellent addition to this thread, particularly because it raises some serious issues that prospective PDs should consider. It's terrible that you and your family were victimized by crime, and I'm sorry if any of the following is insensitive.

I definitely understand that victims of crimes, especially violent ones, feel very strongly that the person who has been accused of hurting them of their loved ones should not be protected, or at least that those who protect him are committing some additional moral offense. I understand this perspective and I don't think there's anything wrong with it. I also know that there's basically nothing I or any PD could say to change the way a victim feels, and I wouldn't presume to try. But I can try to explain why I'm interested in being a public defender.

My perspective is a little different from OP's. I agree that our penal system is screwed up and that prison is a horrible place to be, but that isn't really why I went to law school to do this work. For me, it's about doing my part to preserve the model of fairness our society has chosen to put into practice. We have agreed that every killer, rapist, thief and thug deserves a rigorous defense. Our system of criminal justice is entirely structured around the idea that the state cannot punish someone without due process, because it is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer. We had to develop a fair system in order to determine guilt, and as everyone knows,,the system we use is adversary- one side does everything it can to get an acquittal while the other does everything it can to get a conviction, and the finder of fact somehow derives from that litigation a verdict that represents truth or justice, or the closest we can get to either of those ideas. I think that both sides are necessary and both are simultaneously good and bad. The state punishes the guilty but causes a lot of collateral damage in the process; most of which has already been discussed here. The defense ensures that the state does its job by the book and protects the interests of people at times in their life when literally everyone else in the world has turned their backs on them, and also causes collateral damage in tht process. The point is that we need both sides in order for the whole system to work.

If we don't have public defenders, which part of the due process clause do we ignore? While we're at it, should we just throw away the sixth amendment? More importantly, what should we do to ensure that we, as a state, don't imprison or kill innocent people? The innocence project continues to prove that innocent people are punished all the time, even with the constitutional protections we have in place now. Should we just imprison anyone who the police arrest? Anyone who the DA decides is guilty? Anyone who a victim identifies? What does a system without fair trials and public defenders look like, if it doesn't look like a police state?

FuturePD
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Re: Future Public Defender (I start next month) taking questions

Postby FuturePD » Mon Sep 02, 2013 2:48 pm

AnonDane wrote:Just wanted to first say thank you for this awesome thread -- I'm always looking for PD info on TLS, but there's really not a lot out there.

I'm a rising 2L with a question about how to weigh summer options (granted I have no offers yet, but who knows how long this thread will be around!). I've sent out applications, but I'm torn between what type of experience I should preference. I've heard great things from friends who've worked at the more "prestigious" PD offices (think DC/NYC) especially in terms of quality of mentorship, but I'm personally really interested in offices that allow 2Ls to carry a caseload and to do, at a minimum, bench trials with the possibility of jury trials. The two "brandname" offices, while potentially opening doors, do not really allow interns to stand up in court. Given that I did capital defense work this past summer (I did work on a trial and a hearing, but obviously I didn't do any of the actual arguing), which experience would you recommend for 2L summer -- both for my own skills as a PD and for hiring competitiveness? My school does offer a yearlong 3L PD clinic, which I'll be participating in, and generally you get to do at least one trial, but that will be after I've already started interviewing for post-grad jobs.

I also have a more specific question, but I'd rather not share too much identifying information. If PM'ing was a possibility, I'd really appreciate it!

Thanks again for this great thread :)


Apply for any office you'd be willing to work at. Because hiring is really competitive, and a little random, you really don't know where you're going to get offers from, and you'd be cutting off opportunities if you didn't apply for everything possible to give yourself the most possible options.

But let's assume that it's 3 months from now, and you have a wide array of offers, and you're trying to decide among them. I'd look at a couple of things. First, what kind of work will you be doing in the office? When you talk about "brandname" offices, I assume you're talking about Bronx Defenders and PDS, among others. PDS doesn't allow clerks to stand in court (though parole and juvenile clerks do get their own caseloads for administrative hearings), but BxD does, though it's unlikely that you'll get a trial. However, I think either of those offices would look great on a resume. Plus, I know that PDS gives its summer interns. Then there are offices like NH and Colorado that basically treat 2L interns like mini-PDs. It's a great experience, and I've heard that Colorado gives you a great leg up if you want to apply for an attorney job in Colorado (NH usually hires only a few people a year, so even if working there helps your chances, you can't count on being hired there, I think). Second, what kind of training will you get? BxD and PDS have formal, ongoing trial training for clerks, similar to a truncated version of the new attorney training they do in the fall. It's a great learning opportunity, as well as a way to make sure that people who will act as your references for other jobs can see your trial skills. Some offices have little or no training. Most fall somewhere in between. Third, how will working at this office give you a leg up in hiring, either at that office or at others? Many offices hire primarily out of their own intern pools, or give preference to their own former intern, so if you want to work there, it's a big bonus to spend a summer there (Colorado, NY Legal Aid, BxD, etc.) If your first choice is to end up at an office that gives preference to its own former interns, you should think seriously about spending a summer there even if it wouldn't otherwise be your first choice. If you're hoping to end up in a particular state, consider interning in that state so that you're familiar with that state's laws and can talk intelligently in interviews about how things work (it's subtle, but knowing how things go down in a particular jurisdiction can make you sound smarter in interviews). And of course, having a really impressive internship can't hurt (though I have heard that BxD experience does hurt some LAS candidates, because they don't want to be people's second choice).

I can't tell you how to weight those factors. Once you've gotten yourself into that upper echelon of really impressive PD candidates, I think that hiring will have more to do with personality, interviewing skill, and just plain luck. Whether you had a trial over the summer probably won't be the difference between getting a job and not if you've otherwise done everything right. So I wouldn't consider that to be the be-all-end-all question in deciding where to work over the summer. But it can be a plus, as can lots of other factors. Ultimately, you have to weigh all of the considerations, make the best choice you can, and hope for the best. But apply for everything that's available to you, because you want to actually have these options open to you.

Absolutely, feel free to PM me if you have other questions.
Last edited by FuturePD on Mon Sep 02, 2013 3:27 pm, edited 1 time in total.

jkay
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Re: Future Public Defender (I start next month) taking questions

Postby jkay » Mon Sep 02, 2013 3:17 pm

Stinson wrote:at the end of the day the functional aims of your efforts are allowing child molesters and rapists to escape incapacitation for what they did.


Wow. Just wow. I too am sorry for what you and your family experienced, but if you truly believe statements like this, maybe you should stick to the prosecutor threads.




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