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June 01, 2013

Alisa Larson-Xu

Metropolitan Public Defender, Portland, OR

I was fortunate enough to work at Metropolitan Public Defender (MPD) over the summer. MPD provides quality criminal defense for indigent clients. I worked as a research student, and was assigned a variety of tasks, including writing motions, researching and writing memos for staff attorneys, and summarizing new Oregon law to provide as a resource for Oregon criminal defense lawyers. 

I was able to watch the oral arguments for a motion to dismiss that I had written, which was based on speedy trial rights. It was invigorating and nerve-wracking to hear the attorneys discuss the merits of the motion. Luckily, the motion was granted and the case was dismissed. It’s a very humbling experience to witness a client’s reaction after his or her case is dismissed. My time at MPD demonstrated. how important a public defender’s role is within the legal system. 

MPD is not a government entity, but rather a nonprofit organization. It is contracted by the state an receives limited funds to provide representation for thousands of indigent clients. The attorneys are extremely busy and sometimes just don’t have time to research nuanced issues in the law. The research students are there to provide this research, and many times help develop ideas on a new issue that can come to an attorney while he or she is in trial. Research students can provide an extra thread that will support an indigent client’s right to fair and just trial, and can help alleviate some of the case load pressure that burdens public defenders. 

The PILP stipend helped me enormously this summer because I was able to focus all my time and resources at MPD. Had a stipend not been awarded, it would have been very hard to choose MPD over a paying job, especially with law school debt in the background. Receiving compensation for public-interest student jobs not only helps individual students, but also puts value in the type of work they are doing. This is extremely important for the continued existence of quality public defense attorneys in the judicial system.