ambivalent imbroglio home

« Ambivalent Voices: Synecdochic | Main | “Blawg” & Blawg Republic »

February 22, 2005

2L Summer Job Question

One year ago at this time I faced a dilemma about what to do for my 1L summer. Several of you, my kind readers, offered advice that proved invaluable—you said work for the public defender, I did, I loved it, and now I'm planning to make that my career. With that in mind, the time has come to make another career/summer job decision, and once more I seek your advice. Here's the situation: I worked last summer for a great PD's office where I had a great experience and learned an incredible amount about being a PD. It's a small office (only about a dozen attorneys) in a medium-sized city. I'm thrilled that they have asked me to return this summer, and I'd love to do so. But my question is this: Should I go back to the same PD office I worked in last year, or will that look bad to future public defender employers? The benefits of going back to the same job are that I know them and how things work in the office so I should be able to help them out more and get more responsibility in return. The office is also in a jurisdiction that allows 2Ls to get a “second year practice certificate” so I could represent misdemeanor defendants in court (w/a licensed attorney present and ready to step in at any moment if I start to screw up). Also, returning to the same job should send a message to future employers that I did well there, they liked my work, which seems like a good message to send. So basically, it would be an awesome opportunity that would give me some really good experience. The drawbacks I see are simply that if I return to the same job, my only real knowledge of being a PD will come from this one office and it just seems like it might be a good idea to see how another office does things. What do you think? If you were looking at hiring a new PD, would it matter whether the candidate had spent two summers in the same PD office, or would that make no difference? Any thoughts you have would be appreciated. (Please feel free to throw in your two cents even if you're not a PD yourself or never have been. I'm just trying to make sure I see all the angles here.) Thanks!

Posted February 22, 2005 08:51 AM | 2L advice law school

You should probably look for new employment your second summer, not because of how it may or may not look to another PD's office, but because of the options it gives you. If your 1L PDs office wants to give you a job this summer, it's likely that they'd offer you a job after law school. That's not going to change whether you join them 2L summer or not. PDs offices, as with other gov't offices, hire unpredictable numbers and at unpredictable times because of budget concerns. If you work at a different PDs office your second summer, you double your chances of one of those offices hiring you after law school. Plus, there's the whole learning experience/different perspective, yadda, yadda thing.

Posted by: M at February 22, 2005 10:29 AM

Ok, I obviously can't speak from the perspective of someone who knows about legal careers and how to pursue them. But I can say, from many years of working, hiring, etc. that what always looks good is someone who can demonstrate stability and dedication, something that putting some time in in the same place indicates, as well as acceptance of an increasing amount of responsibility and experience. From that perspective, I think taking the job with the same place might be invaluable.

Then again, I think that you are at a stage in your education/career development when you have a chance to do something that you won't really be able to once you're out of school (and repaying loans!) which is to really broaden your horizons by trying different things/places/people/etc. Let's face it, the consequences of trying and failing/discovering what you like/don't like now are, comparatively, minor. And let's not forget that being in school, and not having to repay loans, you are not burdened by the pressure to do SOMETHING, which more often than not is a recipe for unhappiness.

SO, I suppose that it comes down to how sure you are that PD is really what you want to do. If you're not sure, if there is even the smallest glimmer of doubt, I would say do something else. Otherwise, go for it! To be a PD is a thankless job that will get you into the seamy underbelly of a society where the concern for citizen's rights seems on the decline. Aside from the procedural and operational differences between jurisdictions (no small thing I am sure), the most valuable qualities to have would be a strong stomach followed by practical experience and the ability to think fast on your feet. In this sense, just taking the PD job, any PD job, will give you these things. In other words, only coming back for yet more punishment will really demonstrate you have what it takes to a prospective employer in the field.

And did you get a new mac? If you did, you better post about it boy-o!

Posted by: Famous P. at February 22, 2005 12:03 PM


I think it depends on the answers to three questions:

1) Do you want to work at this office after graduation?
2) What are the chance this office will hire you permanently after graduation?
3) What are the other options?

If you are thinking that you won't end up in this office after graduation, I would be disinclined to work there a second summer unless you're out of other options. Working someplace new signals that you have lots of options and are committed to being a PD.

BTW, I think it's terrific that you want to be a PD. It's an extremely important and rewarding job.

Posted by: Orin Kerr at February 22, 2005 07:15 PM

you should definitely work somewhere else. if this PD is going to hire you after graduation, then they'll hire you after you've worked elsewhere, too. and you might end up with two job offers instead of just one.

you can get the student practice permit anywhere. you don't want to limit yourself to one area.

P. says you want to show committment. your extracurriculars show that. you're a more valuable candidate if you have 2 different kinds of experience rather than just one.

(for what it's worth - we get 4 internships, and they never let us repeat them.)

Posted by: monica at February 22, 2005 08:44 PM

Thanks everyone for your input. You all make great points and the decision seems unanimous, but there's one maybe crucial piece of information I didn't mention: I'm a slacker, I haven't really applied for many jobs, and I don't really have any other options at the moment. Oh, and in order to get summer funding from GW I have to have a job secured by March 21. I know that's still about a month away, but....

Also, no one seems to think it's significant that if I did the same job I did last summer I *know* I could get into court actually representing clients (at least a few misdemeanors), while that would be far from guaranteed elsewhere. (Not every jursidiction offers the student practice permit and many PD offices don't let you use it anyway; I know DC PDS doesn't for example.) Wouldn't the in-court experience and increased responsibility I know I'd get at my old job count for something?

Still, I agree that it would be ideal to get a summer spot at a different PD office. The doubling my chances for a job offer thing is a huge factor. (It's doubtful the office I worked in last summer would offer me a real position regardless; its too small and doesn't have very high turnover.) However, I'm just freaked about the "bird in hand" thing. Time seems short, and I haven't even applied to other places yet. What if I turn this down and end up w/nothing/crap for the summer?

New wrinkle: I had a second interview today w/a criminal defense policy shop. It would also be a cool job, but strictly research and writing. I don't know if they'll offer it, but any thoughts on whether something like that would be preferable to spending two summers at the same PD office?

Thanks again for your input on this -- it's very helpful.

p.s. to Monica: Can I just go to Alaska with you?

p.s.: to Prof. Kerr: Thank you!

p.s. to Famous P: Trust me, if I got a new Mac, you would know already. The 2001 iBook continues to putter along flawlessly (if slowly).

p.s. to M: Got any favors to call in w/your well-connected PD pals? ;-)

Posted by: ambimb at February 22, 2005 10:13 PM

I think it is very significant that you would get actual rep. exp. with the student practice order---this is "increasingly responsible experience," and that would justify taking the position. Maybe you could also talk them into letting you do some cross training with overlapping issues of immigration, family, or habeas if they do any of that.

I was talking to a hiring attorney at the Legal Aid Society (New York) this morning, and he was upset that he would have so many inexperienced attorneys---he really wants new hires that can hit the ground running. Since PD's are so poorly funded, they need people who don't need a lot of supervision, so anyone with real experience is attractive. There is the danger that working at a different PD would mean more of the same instead of progressively responsible experience. As far as the policy house, that is impressive experience, but not exactly practical experience. I have seen so many NYU and Columbia grads who come into court and are probably brilliant researchers and writers, but who annoy the hell out of the judge because they don't know what they're doing in the practical sense. If you're thinking about a clinic or an externship in 3L, that could round out your experience. And if the PD is not hiring when you graduate, perhaps you could get a fellowship to work at the PD office to work on a special project, such as collateral civil consequences of arrest/incarceration, or immigration deportation issues (see

Good luck!

Posted by: Ashley at February 23, 2005 12:44 AM

I think the real experience is invaluable. It will be a chance to really make sure this is what you want to do - you'll be in the trenches, making the decisions, fighting the good fight. If you don't like it, better that you know now based on real experience rather than later.

Really, I think you'll be fine regardless of which option you pick. You'll get great experience at both.

Best of luck!

Posted by: transmogriflaw at February 23, 2005 01:53 AM

for what it's worth, we have many many PDs offices as co-op employers, and i've never heard of any that don't let students into court if they have a student practice permit. the calendars are so over-booked that they're desperate for manpower. so i think that's worth more research - from my experience, DC must be an exception.

why not look for something else, and ask for a few weeks from last summer's PD? that would give you time to see if you can find something else in time for the deadline, and if not, keep it as a backup. if they really want you, they'll wait, and if not, then i think that's better for you anyway.

Posted by: monica at February 23, 2005 07:55 AM

As a 3L currently undergoing the grueling PD interview process, I can attest to the fact that many public defender offices want to see some experience under your belt. I don't think it has to be handling your own misdemeanor caseload - but something that demonstrates that you have a practical skill or two that you can throw in the direction of the courtroom when you start work. Some PD offices seem to expect you to be fully trained and ready to go. Others just want to make sure that you are really approaching your position and legal issues with a mindset that's friendly to your client.

I think what it comes down to is - whether you interview with another PD office, or a policy organization, or take a position with the agency you worked for last year -- as long as you can go into interviews feeling as though you have a solid foundation in criminal defense and feel confident explaining why you chose what you did, I don't think it'll matter all that much. You have good reasons to make any of the decisions that you have before you.

Posted by: womanofthelaw at February 23, 2005 09:00 AM

AI --

Yes, my PD friend who was in town this weekend mentioned that he would happily pass your resume on to the right people. Call me -


Posted by: M at February 23, 2005 10:02 AM

Thanks again to you all for posting your thoughts on this. I'm still trying to figure it out, but you've given me lots to consider.

Blonde Justice (a PD herself) generously added her thoughts here.

Posted by: ambimb at February 23, 2005 07:44 PM

Sorry I'm a bit late on this as everyone seems to have made valid points. However, one thing I'd like to know is what sort of PD system is in place? Is it the kind where you apply to different positions and then a central office hires you? Or does each individual office have the power to hire you for a job in that location? If it is the former, then I don't really think it matters that much, however if individual offices make decisions then in terms of future job security it might make more sense to go back. I'm a PD and in my first summer I did nothing related to PD work. In my second summer I worked all the way across the country in San Diego at a Fed. P.D. Now I'm firmly entrenched in the state PD system. So, in my opinion, it doesn't really matter that much as long as you get some experience (practical) and have to show for it on your resume. Most PD employers are looking for dedicated attorneys with some sort of training and experience. I'd recommend going wherever you would find that. The rest will fall into place.

Posted by: Three Generations at February 24, 2005 11:39 AM

I think it depends on if you can get into a clinic your third year or not. If you can get into a clinic, then the representing people in court your second summer won't matter much.

Posted by: Melissa at February 24, 2005 05:02 PM

Get into DC Law Students in Court your third year!

Posted by: Melissa at February 24, 2005 05:05 PM

You might want to ask Curtis ( of Singing Loudly. I think he's going to work as a PD, but I don't know what he did during his summers beforehand.

Posted by: E. McPan at February 26, 2005 12:11 PM

Thanks also to Skelly at Arbitrary and Capricious who offered this career advice from the trenches. I made my decision, which I discuss briefly here -- but I'm going back to the same PD office where I worked last year. It feels like the best decision for me.

Melissa: I'm in a clinic now and I'll definitely try to get into Law Students in Court next year. GW also has an appellate clinic that does criminal cases, so I'm going to look into that, too.

Three Generations: The office I'm returning to hires its own people, so there's a small chance a second summer there will help me get a real job. However, it's such a small office and turnover is so low that openings are few and far between, so even if they love me, they may not be able to consider me for a job. I'll definitely get great experience, though, and I'm encouraged by your advice in my confidence that PD employers elsewhere will be able to appreciate the value of that experience. Thanks for commenting.

Posted by: ambimb at February 26, 2005 02:38 PM

about   ∞     ∞   archives   ∞   links   ∞   rss
This template highly modified from The Style Monkey.