This summer I had the opportunity to work in the Miami-Dade County Public Defenders Office. This opportunity was exciting because I had the chance to learn about an area of law I never considered practicing and I would be doing it in a city where I had no contacts. My purpose for working in Miami this summer was two-fold. I have always loved visiting the city on vacation so I figured it would be best to work there for a couple of months and decide if I liked living in the city. Additionally, I wanted to spend my 2L summer gaining more practical experience in the legal field. I am happy to report that I was able to fulfill both of my goals. Usually after I interviewed a new client, my supervising attorney would give me the case file and tell me to begin preparing the case for trial. Preparing a case for trial consisted of contacting and interviewing witnesses, deposing the state’s witnesses, and researching defenses to the offense charged.
While at the public defender’s office I was assigned to a division. My division handled felony cases. My division consisted of four attorneys and they each had a letter from A-C that corresponded with the type of cases they handled. For instance, the A attorney handled all of the felony murders and rapes that resulted in injury, the B attorney handled the rest of the rape cases and drug cases that were first and second degree felonies. Lastly, there were two C attorneys both who handled the rest of the drug cases and all other felonies that the A and B attorneys did not cover. In addition, all of the attorney alternated weeks for when they would be in court. That week was called trial week and during that time the attorneys inform the court if they are ready for trial, they pick up new cases that are appointed to the public defender and they hold hearings. During the week when there is no court the attorneys would do client visits, talk with witnesses and hold depositions. I remember thinking this process was chaotic but after just a few days I realized that it was organized chaos and those who needed to know what was going on knew exactly what to do in court.
Over the course of two months, I learned how to write deposition questions, interview clients, interview witnesses, file documents with the clerk, and just overall general courtroom etiquette. I also did quite a bit writing and research. Most of my writing assignments consisted of motions to suppress. Many of the times I was asked to write a motion, I was given examples to look at. It was great learning that use of templates can help make legal work more efficient.
I found that the legal community in a city as big as Miami is relatively small. Just like the legal community here in Columbia many of the attorneys knew each other and had a lot of respect for one another. Also, the legal community was very welcoming. For the most part I had no problem finding people to talk to or get advice from. Even after my supervising attorney was assigned to another division, I had no problem getting work from other attorneys in the office. However, towards the end of the internship I did find that the workflow slowed down. I believe this was due to the fact that I was leaving and it didn’t make much sense for me to start new projects. The office setting at the public defenders was extremely relaxed. We did not participate in many office activities because the office does not have a lot of money but many of the attorneys and other interns were always open to attend happy hours and lunch. Sometimes we would all meet up and go to the beach on the weekends.
Overall, I really enjoyed my time at the Miami Public Defender’s Office. It was a great opportunity to get a first hand look at criminal law. When it all ended I realized that criminal defense work was not for me but I highly encourage anyone who has an interest in criminal defense work or who is not sure about criminal defense to work in an office like the public defenders.