2007 PFIG Recipient Clare Murphy
College of Arts & Sciences
Economics and Latin American Studies
2008 Graduation Year
Internship: Public Defender Service in in Fairfax, VA.
My name is Clare Murphy and I am a rising fourth-year in the college. I am an economics and Latin American studies major and I’m excited to begin the new Masters in Public Policy program in the fall. This summer I am working at the Public Defender Service of DC, a federally-funded agency that provides attorneys for indigent DC residents accused of serious crimes. I found this internship online while browsing through a list of presenters at a non-profit career fair. I recommend looking for internships this way, as you can take advantage of many career fairs even if you can’t attend them. I was very impressed by both the website and the application. The main part of the application gives a sample police report, and you have to write an essay question about how you would go about finding information to support the client, based on what little information you have. The next stage is an interview, which is either over the phone or in-person. The Internship Coordinator asked some very interesting questions, several of which were about whether I feel comfortable with legal ethics- you absolutely must be okay with working for an acquittal regardless of whether the client actually committed the crime.
All interns work with partners directly under a PDS attorney. We will get to see our attorney in court and speaking with clients, so this will be a great introduction to criminal law. We will be working directly in the field most of the time, and it will be nice not to be stuck in an office all day. I will have the opportunity to get to know DC much better- it’s a city I’ve lived near most of my life, but I really haven’t seen more than Georgetown and the Smithsonian’s. In this job you have to learn to speak diplomatically but persuasively to witnesses and officials in the interest of our clients, and I hope this skill can serve me well later should I decide on a career in law. Another aspect is that I’ll be able to practice my Spanish often, as many attorneys and other interns need translators to talk to Spanish-speaking clients and witnesses. It’s a long internship (12 weeks), so I hope to gain a lot of experience this summer.
Notes on the first week
I have been at my internship with the Public Defender Service of D.C. for about two weeks now- I started just a few days after finals period ended at UVA. The first week was intensive training. I was expected to get basic training on what we need to do to get the job done, but I had no idea we’d get such an in-depth introduction to criminal law and the procedures specific to Washington, D.C. We were introduced to a wide range of topics, from the right questions to ask when interviewing witnesses to the digital resources available to us to track everything from license plates to old cases. Throughout the week we were given lectures by different staff attorneys. The chief of trials gave us advice about law school and a specialist in ethics helped us get motivated for the work we were about to begin.
For the past week I have been working with my new partner, Peter, and my attorney. We have already had the opportunity to see her in court, which was a first for me. What was especially exciting was that we were allowed to sit in on a (closed) juvenile trial as members of her staff and assist her with anything she needed– such as serving a subpoena to an officer and keeping our witness up to date on when she’d be needed in court.
We have several cases to keep track of, but our attorney has been keeping us up to date as new facts and important people emerge. It has been wonderful to have such close contact with and supervision by a practicing lawyer, as well as to be able to see what evidence is good and bad for a case and its defense theory. I am also becoming much more familiar with D.C. and have been surprised by how friendly and helpful so many of the people we have encountered have been so far; they don’t have to take their time to help me and Peter in our investigation, but they do.
My time at the Public Defender Service has flown by pretty quickly. A typical day includes trying to get through red tape and work with different government agencies to get the documents and evidence we need. In the afternoon my partner and I go out into D.C. and canvass crime scenes and try to speak with complainants. Sometimes we have to go to the same place 5 times before finding anyone, while sometimes we get lucky right away. Each time we knock on a door we have to be prepared to conduct a thorough interview or take a detailed statement, but we never know if the person we need will be at home. We clocked about 600 miles in the car last month.
Working as an intern investigator with PDS has helped me to better understand the many different stages of a criminal trial process. The earliest investigation includes subpoenaing documents to the preliminary hearing, which is usually just a few days after the client is arrested. Sometimes the investigation helps the attorney decide whether to accept a certain plea offer or go to trial. And because we work on general felonies, the incidents often involve possession of guns and drugs, which means we often try to get the evidence suppressed by arguing that the client’s fourth amendment rights were violated. My partner and I have only actually worked on one case that has gone to a full trial, and we were very busy right as it was coming up! We also do investigation for sentencing, after a client has been convicted or pled guilty. The goal is to help the judge see the client as a whole person and to understand any mitigating factors.
I have also been able to attend court during all these different stages and see my attorney in action. But one downside is that we can’t attend court for the cases on which we have done the most important investigation because we may be needed to testify later on. We work on many different cases at a time (15 right now) and an intern may be called back to testify six months or a year later, so it has been important to write detailed memos. I just hope I don’t need to testify during midterms or finals!
I finished my internship at the Public Defender Service of D.C. in the second week of August, and am now returning to life as usual at UVA. While I wouldn’t say that working at the Public Defender Service was more intellectually challenging than academic work, it tested me in other ways- it was emotionally and physically difficult, and we worked under pressing time constraints and managed a large case load. I feel comfortable now in my decision to pursue the new M.P.P. degree and to later go to law school. While balancing an LSAT prep course, graduate classes, and work this semester will be difficult, I feel confident that I can handle these challenges after this summer.
I am keeping in touch with my partner and lawyer, and they are keeping me up to date on what is happening in our different cases. I have been finding out that investigation that seemed inconsequential at the time can have a real impact on the case later on. I don’t know if I will be called to D.C. to testify in the future, but I do hope to find out what happens with all of our clients.
Criminal defense lawyers have a code of ethics that many people consider to be immoral or amoral at best. The attorney and anyone who represents him or her must be a zealous advocate for the client - whether or not the individual is guilty is inconsequential. It is counterintuitive, but to work on a criminal defense counsel for this person is surprisingly humanizing. You represent, support, and do anything you can for an individual with completely different life experiences and worldviews, for someone you may have never met and would probably never meet in life outside work. You meet with their families and girlfriends, and it is unnerving how apathetic they can be to the legal issues of the person they are supposed to care about. You are often the only educated people on the client’s side, the only ones who don’t want to see him "pay" or suffer, and you support this human being and his future unconditionally. I leave with a very high opinion of Public Defenders and the draining, difficult work they do every day, and I would certainly recommend this very hands-on internship program to other UVA students.