This summer I worked full time as a certified law student at Metropolitan Public Defender (MPD), in Hillsboro, Oregon. Working as a certified law student meant that I was able to represent defendants in court throughout all stages of their criminal case. Working as a public defender was both challenging and rewarding. It is very fulfilling to empower an individual and provide them with clarity in a stressful situation. While I did not carry the caseload of an attorney working at MPD, at times the number of cases I was assigned gave me an understanding of how it feels to be swamped with clients who all need attention. Adding in another wrinkle, it is necessary to for a certified law student to gain and maintain client consent in order to represent clients, which is not a problem that public defenders generally confront. Criminal defendants have a right to a lawyer, but not the lawyer of their choice.
One of the most unique experiences I had as a CLS was conducting a real jury trial. Although the trial did not end as I had hoped, it was an amazing and empowering experience to tell my clients story to six jurors and see the process in action from the perspective of an attorney. One of my favorite parts of the trial was void dire, or jury selection. It is an incredibly unique experience and one of the most important parts of the trial process.
My work this summer solidified my desire to pursue a career in public interest law, and specifically public defense. Criminal defense practice is incredibly interesting and rewarding, and public defense specifically provides the opportunity to empower those at the margins of the legal system whose unique stories are so often ignored by the law as it writes rules with broad brush strokes in the name of “fairness.” Working with indigent criminal defendants exposes you to such a broad swath of people that it is impossible not to take heart at the basic goodness and decency of everyone, regardless of what they have done or are capable of doing.
I am incredibly grateful to PILP for the stipend which allowed me to pursue my career path in public defense and make a meaningful change in the lives of some of the least privileged members of our community.