Internship at the Public Defender's Office

An internship at the public defender’s office provides a growing professional in judicial field with numerous opportunities and examples, which one should use to the full in order to gain a valuable qualification and experience for further career enhancement. To begin, it offers a great chance to cognize the mechanism of the judicial defensive system from within. While the primary role of the public defender is to provide judicial assistance to individuals who cannot afford to hire a private attorney for this purpose, this factor makes it possible to focus on the actual law application rather than any other components of this occupation. For this reason, the task of the intern is to observe the mentor’s activity carefully and to take active part in assisting the attorney, from which the one learns. However, this procedure does not imply a mere observation, but requires focus on active learning from the assigned practical tasks. Therefore, to acquire the maximal level of knowledge and skills from the internship, one should understand the significance of this practice and devotedly perform the duties.

In particular, a range of responsibilities of the intern is of wide scope, and it concerns the fieldwork rather than staying in the office. Nonetheless, the commitment to fulfilling these responsibilities appropriately implies many lessons to be learned. To a great extent, the role of the intern is linked to collecting evidence to defend the client and interviewing the witnesses for the same purpose. Apart from that, one should perform criminal background checks with relation to individuals who are involved in case investigation and collect photos and diagrams of crime scenes. Overall, one must carefully study the entire information that can be found useful in the process of investigation and courtroom hearings. In this respect, the intern has to accurately consider details of each case to provide a relevant, well-supported and reasonable background as a means to organize a proper defense mechanism for the client. Thus, the role of the intern in this context is of great significance. His or her theoretical knowledge regarding the foundation of the judicial system and the capability to take into account all critical elements of the case and use the main legal concepts and techniques for conducting the data collection procedure can sufficiently impact the entire case processing. This aspect of internship enables the intern to put theoretical knowledge obtained during studying and training into practice. Moreover, one can detect gaps in own skills and knowledge and bridge ones between theory and practice effectively. Of course, the level of effectiveness of this process is determined by the extent of intern’s willingness, activity and commitment to the process. If one presumes that the internship at the public defender’s office is a way to waste time for paper work and a desk-sitting job, this assumption is initially wrong. Following the duties of the intern mentioned above, the one has to have a serious approach to work because this practical experience gives substantial opportunities to get qualifications necessary for further professional growth. In this regard, the intern has to carefully listen to mentor’s instructions and guidance, make notes, create an outline for tasks to be accomplished, and follow this course of actions on a step-by-step basis. As soon as such an approach towards evidence collection will be taken for granted and trained to a reflexive level, the outcomes will be twofold. On the one hand, the intern will be capable to evaluate the significance of this dimension of public defender’s performance for the anticipated outcomes of the case as a whole. On the other hand, this aspect will allow training legal skills and critical thinking of the intern, which are vital in the intended sphere. In general, if one manages to undertake this step consciously, he or she will achieve a sufficient degree of proficiency acquired by the intern to become a real-life assistant of the attorney rather than a newcomer in the field.

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What is more, the exact area of internship defines narrowed or broader focus of this practical experience. In other words, internship can be related to a trial process as an extended sphere of the judicial practice. At the same time, it may be concerned with the civil or parole divisions, which are connected with a little bit different specification of public defender’s occupation. Each of these areas requires a definite scope of skills and knowledge. Additionally, these factors are influential in terms of providing hints to the evidence to be collected. Namely, while the trial process will require more evidence to be obtained, a civil case may be less data-driven. Nonetheless, a commitment towards any of the assigned duties will become a core determinant of one’s future success. In this way, a practitioner will get an opportunity to upgrade individual knowledge of the criminal justice system with regards to different paradigms of the overall structure of justice and legislation governing the field. It is important to realize that each domain of the public defender’s work is equally significant with relation to the stakeholders involved. The centerpiece of this judicial dimension is “representing the poor, the homeless and other marginalized citizens accused of crimes” (Alyson, 2015). Therefore, accuracy in performing internship duties and assignments will determine the future of clients and the qualification, reputation and professionalism of the intern and the attorney one assists.

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In addition, data collection is just the first stage in data processing, though it is critical to be conducted in a proper manner. Specifically, the entire information obtained by the intern concerning a certain case has to be written concisely and consciously and structured in order to be easily accessed and used in constructing a defense scheme for the client. Moreover, well-organized data will be of great assistance for the attorney in the courtroom while presenting the evidence to the jury among other issues. Thus, data accuracy should be based on both their relevance to the case and being presentable. In this respect, the intern should find the most suitable methods for presenting the data in the courtroom, such as (a) preparing exhibits; (b) writing succinct and informative reports on the data collection process; and (c) preparing photo-evidence exhibits, to list a few. Understanding the significance of all these issues is not highlighted in textbooks or found on the Internet, but can be gained via practice only. Basically, this aspect of practical training can seem as translating the attorney’s most routine duties to the intern in order to ease his or her own work. Nonetheless, this piece of work is extremely important for the intern. In this way, one will comprehend and realize a complex structure of a well-reasoned case from the core of its elements and details. As a result, these basic tasks will be completely understood by the intern and will be further transformed from the knowledge gained in quest of evidence into mere attention, observation and critical thinking as crucial skills in the field. Hence, the skills of determining the relevance of the initial evidence in case investigation will become a sufficient background for a thorough and holistic qualification in this sphere.   

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Apart from in-job learning and professional experience, the intern working side-by-side with the public defender will also get an opportunity to acquire a set of appropriate professional skills and qualities necessary to become a highly qualified specialist in the intended field. In line with this, emphasis should be put on the professional ethics due to the character of the public defense sector. In other words, the operations of the public defense office are positioned as a fight against “an unsympathetic system to ensure their clients receive justice” (Alyson, 2015). The target customers involve individuals who have been already deprived of the thoroughly promoted rights and freedoms and cannot afford the lawyer when facing the criminal justice issues. Moreover, the professional assigned to these people by either the court or the state is forced to play a challenging role. Specifically, the public defender is supposed to represent potential or current criminals who might have committed horrible crimes. As an ordinary human being, whose personality is sufficiently based on emotions, one may encounter huge ethical dilemmas in this respect. Probably, one is likely to face this problem very often due to the specificity of the qualification. Therefore, the internship at the public defender’s office and learning from the specialist with substantial experience in this occupation will enable one to learn to be objective. With time, it will be relevant to transform this feature into own responsibility and personal characteristic. This quality is extremely important for the professional in this field. For instance, the case will be a total failure if the attorney assigned by the state or the court is initially convinced that his or her client is guilty and one is a complete monster at all. As a result, such positioning will have a detrimental effect on one’s professional career and result into his or her incompetence and incompetitiveness. Thus, the intern’s dedication to the collection of case-relevant data and basing own arguments and judgments on the evidence and law-centric logical reasoning rather than biases will become a good start for his or her professional growth. With this rationale in mind, one has to be unprejudiced, open-minded and believe in the presumption of innocence to the full as well as be guided by all these qualities during each case processing. Nurturing this belief and qualities is a must-do for the intern in order not to be money-driven but honest and respected.

At the same time, the enhancement of relationship-building skills when dealing with the target audience in this sphere is an additional lesson to learn from the public defender. To say that the client base in the field is specific is too simple. Indeed, overcoming the aforementioned emotional barriers with respect to the client’s criminal experience can become another substantial challenge for the intern, though it has to be done. As a rule, the target population one will deal with is diverse. For instance, people may range from experienced offenders who have committed numerous violent crimes to poor and marginalized individuals who may be paralyzed with fear due to the ongoing life sentence. Regardless of the difficulties associated with this, the intern has to learn to show empathy to the client and learn to consider the case from his or her perspective.

What is more, the internship at the public attorney’s office is a good opportunity to learn the power of persuasion to a great degree. Indeed, the key task of any lawyer is to be convincing and make the jury and the judge formulate court rulings on the grounds of his or her arguments. Given the complicated nature of the public defender’s occupation, this skill can be defined as vital to acquire. As it has been mentioned earlier, oftentimes, the clients of public defenders are experienced or violent criminals with a significant criminal background. In this respect, the role of persuasion should not be underestimated. Hence, during the internship program, the intern has to absorb this paradigm of knowledge and legal skills with the utmost attention. Observing the work of the attorney, one ought to improve own communication skills as well. However, persuasive rhetoric does not mean the employment of beautiful phrases in one’s professional toolkit. In contrast, this part of practice implies learning to build evidence-based arguments, enhance the abilities to “explain complicated topics and to convince a judge or jury of their case,” “articulate their points and deal with pressure,” as well as influence the opinion (Alyson, 2015). Thus, the intern has to attain all qualities indicated above in order to learn to be firm and convincing simultaneously because persuasiveness in the key to success in the field.

In summary, it is necessary to underline that following all steps listed above in sequence can be regarded as a holistic strategy ensuring the continuous growth of a professional in the judicial sphere. Undoubtedly, internship is a valuable experience with an opportunity to consciously learn the field from within and understand how it functions. The public defense system is challenging, but it allows obtaining multiple learning experiences that can be of huge value in any other sphere of work in the judicial system. Internship is a great possibility to observe, learn, comprehend and understand the vital elements of criminal defense to become a highly qualified specialist. Thus, this chance should be used to the full.

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