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June 01, 2013

Leland Baxter-Neal

Federal Public Defender, Portland, OR

My second assignment at the Office of the Federal Public Defender for the District of Oregon was to write a motion to suppress. Reading through nearly a dozen police reports, I pieced together a picture of what had happened and identified apparent constitutional violations. I assumed that I would run my ideas past the attorney, write the motion, and receive my next assignment. However, in the weeks that followed, the attorney and investigator brought me on team for nearly every aspect of the case. I accompanied them to visit the defendant in county jail and to examine evidence in the police evidence locker. I sat in on case strategy meetings and reviewed new evidence and information as it came up. As the date for the motion hearing approached, I helped prepare our witnesses, and then I sat in the courtroom as the attorney, armed with the legal arguments I had crafted, set to work advocating for the client’s freedom. 

Over this past summer, I was able to dedicate myself to the Federal Public Defender’s Office as a full-time law clerk thanks to my PILP stipend. If the above case were my only experience it, would have been enough, but I worked on several more cases, under the supervision of elite criminal defense attorneys and tasked with researching a broad sampling of legal issues. As part of a team of summer clerks, I learned alongside-and from-highly capable and intelligent law students, whom I now consider friends. I gained knowledge of federal criminal procedure and substantive criminal law, and honed my writing and researching skills. Perhaps most importantly, the experience crystallized my intention to become a public defender and helped illuminate my remaining path through law school. 

PILP is a vital program that allows law students to gain experience that would often be otherwise inaccessible. It brings dedicated, eager, and sharp legal minds to work for chronically underserved populations and causes. I am grateful to have been a beneficiary of a PILP stipend, and hope that the legal community continues to help fund PILP’s critical mission.