Hands-On Growth Outside the Classroom at PDS

Interning as an investigator at PDS has been the most dive-into-the-water type of educational experience I’ve ever had. Not only have I learned about the criminal justice system at large, but how it affects people every day. That’s the virtue of interacting directly with clients, as I’ve had the unique opportunity to do during the internship.
I’ve also learned a lot about myself. One thing is that this work excites me like nothing else. Sure, public defense is urgent and exhausting. Sure, it’s sometimes menial and often bureaucratic. But I’ll tell you, it’s never dull, rarely boring, and incredibly fulfilling. Because doing this work you realize that you’re helping people in a way that they can’t help themselves. You’re showing up during some of the worst times in their life and, with your pen for a sword, affirming the truth that people are not defined by the worst thing they’ve ever done.
In front of the Metropolitan Police Department Headquarters, where we routinely get police documents.
Another huge benefit of the internship is constant exposure to the criminal justice system. One thing is that I can confidently say that I’ve come to understand the lifetime of a criminal case. From the preliminary hearing to voir dire to trial, being at PDS has given me a chance to contribute to many parts of the process.
Strong interpersonal skills, too, have been tremendously important for this position, and I’ve definitely grown in this area as a result of the internship. To be articulate and convey information in a succinct and meaningful way is the bottom line of effective communication, and whether it be in speaking or writing the internship has definitely demanded a refinement of this skill. Listening is also crucial; why do you think we have two ears but only one mouth? This is true regarding communication with attorneys and investigators, as well as clients and the public. Being an expert in communication is something I will continue to develop at Brandeis academically, and I have no doubt it will help me greatly in whatever career I ultimately choose to pursue.
What’s piqued my interest as well are the legal aspects of public defense. Such aspects include developing theories of defense, writing motions, and performing legal research. These tasks are typically only done by attorneys and law clerks, and knowing that has made me excited about law school and what’s to come.
In front of DC’s Court of Appeals.
But regardless of which area of public defense I’m engaged in – investigations or legal – I know critical thinking will be involved. That’s what keeps me coming back, in brief the fact that there are multiple avenues of defense and it’s our job to pick one and make it stick.
What I’ve said thus far is all to suggest that public defense is, more or less, fun and challenging. And it is. But for me there’s also been a shell-shock aspect. Dire poverty and terrible injustice are things you encounter almost every week on the job. And to be frank, it’s been eye-opening and maturing in a way that no other experience has been. It’s yelled at me face-to-face: “there’s incredible need in the world, even right here in your backyard, and you better do something about it.” It’s a sad acknowledgement but also motivating. It’s the need that lights my fire, and that’s why I’ve also had the inspiring opportunity to volunteer at a church here in DC on some Monday mornings, where we serve some 70-80 homeless people breakfast.
To conclude, my experience at PDS has been extraordinary in that it’s helped me clarify much of what was previously up in the air. I have a better sense of what I’m good at and where I need to improve, and hopefully, what I want to do.
See you next week,
Andrew

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