Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia
Philip Chinn is a law clerk at The Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia (PDS). PDS represents indigent adults charged with felonies in Washington, D.C., as well as providing representation for indigent juveniles charged with offenses.
July 1, 2013
It's been just over a month since I arrived in Washington, D.C. (the other Washington), and my time at the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia (PDS) is going great! I'm working in the trial division at PDS, in the same room as fellow PILF grant recipient Shantrice Anderson. So far, it's been a super intense internship, but the work is fascinating and it's really cool to be working in an office where there are so many talented trial attorneys.
The first week was all orientation, which was very intensive but also really interesting. It was also nice to get a chance to meet the other interns and some of the attorneys before the hard work started. The second week was when we all got assigned to supervising attorneys and started working on actual cases. We also worked at an event to help people with arrests or criminal records determine whether they were eligible to get their records expunged or sealed. There were a lot of people who came through the event, and even though the new D.C. law about record sealing is pretty complicated, it was good to be able to help people determine their eligibility and give them information on how to seal their records.
In terms of working on cases, I have been keeping busy with reviewing discovery and researching issues that come up while my supervising attorney is preparing for trial. Seeing the trial preparation process has been very interesting, because so many different issues come up. One odd thing about D.C. is that the courts out here do not follow the Federal Rules of Evidence, so everything about evidence comes from case law, which makes researching evidentiary issues somewhat challenging.
I have been doing a lot of researching and writing on short deadlines, and I have also spent a lot of time reviewing discovery, watching surveillance videos and interrogations, and listening to police radio logs. I am learning a lot about what actually goes into preparing for trial for a criminal case and the wide variety of issues that can come up in any trial.
PDS also focuses heavily on developing trial skills, and I have been learning a lot about how to write and deliver effective opening statements and how to conduct effective cross-examinations. Later this summer I will be learning about closing statements. The focus on trial skills has been especially helpful this summer because I am learning these skills from experienced, aggressive trial attorneys in a small group setting.
I have also had the opportunity to attend several presentations and special events focusing on public defense. I was able to attend a lunch discussion with the director and deputy director of PDS, and I have attended presentations on prisoners' rights litigation and the state of public defense in the South. All in all, my experience at PDS this summer has been very enjoyable so far!
Aug. 14, 2013
I’m back in Seattle after two and a half months in Washington D.C., and looking back on my experiences, I have to say that the most valuable part of my summer was being able to help prepare for and watch two jury trials over the summer. I learned about what really goes into trial preparation, and it was very interesting to see how the trial preparations played out during the actual trials. The last-minute work during trial, such as researching issues that arise only in the midst of trial, also taught me a lot about how quickly trial strategies may need to be changed. It was interesting to see the different ways lawyers do opening statements, cross-examination, and closing statements.
Another important part of trial preparation was working with investigators. PDS has an investigator intern program that runs at the same time as the law clerk program, so the trial team was comprised of my supervisor, her investigator, the investigative interns, and me. We all worked together on preparing for trial, and working directly with investigators was an interesting experience that I think made the trial preparation easier. I also had the opportunity to work with other law clerks on cases where our supervisors were co-counsel for the same defendant. For example, I was assigned, along with another intern, to meet with a client who was in jail and then write a sentencing letter for submission to the judge on his behalf. Getting feedback from two attorneys and working with another clerk to collaboratively draft a letter was a good experience, and actually meeting with a client was very interesting.
Another valuable part of the PDS experience was seeing the organization's commitment to helping us further our careers. Representatives from several public defenders around the country came and talked to us about hiring opportunities, and there were several other events geared towards providing career advice. This was especially helpful given that the hiring cycle for fall of 2014 is almost upon us.
Finally, becoming friends with the other interns was an important part of the summer for me. The other law clerks at PDS this summer are some of the most intelligent, passionate people I have ever met, and I am glad that I was able to spend a summer getting to know them. It was good to meet people from all over the country who are also passionate about public defense, and I'm sure that I will stay in contact with them for quite some time.
Overall, my summer at PDS was incredibly important and valuable for many reasons. I helped prepare for and watched trials, I reviewed discovery, I met with clients, and I did a lot of research and writing. I feel now that I have a better understanding of what actually goes into being a public defender, and I am glad that I was able to learn all of this at an office that is on the forefront of public defense. PDS showed me what aggressive, client-centered representation looks like, and I'm glad that I had the opportunity to be a law clerk for such a strong organization. My summer PILF grant made this incredibly valuable opportunity possible.