This summer I worked for the Federal Public Defenders in Portland, Oregon. The Federal Public Defenders is a government agency granted with the responsibility of representing indigent defendants charged with federal crimes. Traditionally, the Portland Federal Defenders office has hired law clerks to provide legal research assistance to the attorneys; however, due to Federal budget constraints, the office has been experiencing a hiring freeze for over a year and now relies on volunteer law clerks. Because of the Public Interest Law Project I was able to work at the Federal Defenders office this summer without having to worry about extraneous financial issues that normally accompany a volunteer position.
My work consisted primarily of research and writing assignments. I completed legal memoranda on various legal issues, such as the probability of success of a motion to suppress evidence because of an improper search and seizure. A few times I drafted motions that were submitted to the Court. It was incredibly rewarding to be able to help the attorneys and to be treated like I was an integral part of the office.
In addition to the in-office work, my fellow clerks and I took tours of Multnomah County Detention Center, Oregon State Prison, and Sheridan Federal Correctional Institution. These tours were engaging because they provided us with a firsthand view of the inmates’ world. Also, the tours provided a reminder of why everyone at the Federal Defenders fought so hard to have their clients put into minimum security facilities or on probation because these higher security prisons were such miserable places.
One of my most memorable experiences this summer was when I shadowed an attorney during his initial meeting with a client. At this first meeting the client was scared and confused about what the legal system had in store for him. It was inspiring to see the client become more relieved by the attorney’s efforts to explain the situation. I was also moved by the meeting because I was able to see the client as a human being and not just another lifeless name on the page of a federal indictment.
My PILP stipend provided me with the chance to take this amazing summer job. Pilp also allowed me to work in a position where I gained an invaluable view of our legal system. I learned more about how the Criminal Justice system works than would have been possible in a classroom setting. I was able to utilize the research and writing skills I acquired during my first year of law school in a meaningful, real-world way. Most importantly, I was able to work in an area of law that I hope to pursue after graduation. The time I spent and the connections I made with the people at the Federal Defenders and my fellow clerks this summer will stick with me for the rest of my life. I thank PILP for helping to provide me with the incredible opportunity!