Wednesday, September 16, 2009

DC Superior Court

By Jennifer Forde

This summer I had the opportunity to intern at the DC Superior Court for an associate judge serving in the Court’s civil division. There I had the opportunity to gain a lot of exposure to various areas of civil litigation. My primary responsibilities were to help prepare the Judge for hearings by drafting outlines of the relevant legal issues and to write orders resolving various disputes.
I worked on a broad range of legal issues, but my largest project of the summer involved a very complex dispute over a series of contracts involving multiple plaintiffs. Getting through the case at first was challenging. It took me nearly a week to read through all the motions, memoranda, and exhibits, but once I finally understood the case and the applicable law, I felt good about giving the judge my opinion on how he should rule.
I also had the opportunity to observe hearings, bench trials, and jury trials. In addition to the in-court observations of cases of my assigned judge, I would sometimes observe the courtrooms of other judges hearing high profile cases. This was a great opportunity to see lawyers present oral argument before the court. I had the opportunity to see what were persuasive techniques and styles of presentation, and what was less effective.
I really enjoyed the assignments that I was given, and the opportunity to work closely with the judge was a huge privilege for me. I know that I have substantially improved my legal research and writing skills through my summer experience. I would like to thank all the EJF contributors for helping to fund my summer learning experience.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

United States Attorney’s Office, MD

By Elizabeth Pittman

This summer I’ve been working at the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland. This is the office that represents the United States in both criminal and civil cases in the District of Maryland.
Most people know that the U.S. Attorney’s Office prosecutes cases for the federal government, but a lot of people don’t realize that we handle civil cases, too. One of my first assignments was working on a civil case, where I researched the appealability of a magistrate judge’s decision to deny the government’s motion to recover costs from a non-prevailing plaintiff. That case was based on a traffic collision between a postal truck and a motorcyclist. The U.S. government was found not liable (yes, any time there is a car accident between a postal carrier and someone else, it ends up in federal court), but the judge denied the government’s bill of costs. It was my job to research how the government could appeal this decision and whether it would be likely to prevail on appeal. I also attended a deposition with a lawyer in the civil division. It was really interesting, but I can’t discuss the specifics because it is a case that is still ongoing.

I’ve also worked on a bunch of criminal issues, but again, since many of these cases are ongoing, I can’t say much about the specifics. I’ve worked on a couple of government responses to prisoners’ §2255 habeas motions, and I’ve researched evidentiary issues, sentencing issues, and wrote a 4th Circuit brief. At the U.S. Attorney’s office, all of the law clerks are always given substantive assignments, and it’s a great feeling when something you wrote is actually submitted to a judge! The attorneys are also generally pretty good about providing feedback and helping us improve our writing, too.
One of the best things about working at the U.S. Attorney’s Office is the chance to go to the courthouse and see things in action. I’ve seen pretrial detention hearings, a violation of supervised release hearing, sentencings, and trials. The past couple of weeks I’ve been working on a trial, preparing and handing all of the exhibits, meeting with federal agents, preparing witnesses, brainstorming ideas for lines of questioning, and helping prepare closing statements. Earlier this summer, I watched some of a high profile death penalty trial. Before this summer, I wasn’t sure what area of law I was interested in, but after seeing such talented and passionate lawyers in the courtroom day after day, I know that I want to be a litigator. I’m not sure in what capacity, but I want to be a lawyer who actually spends time in court, and not just in front of a computer screen.

It’s obvious that the Maryland U.S. Attorney’s Office really wants its summer law clerks to have a memorable experience, do substantive work, learn a lot, but also have fun. They’ve planned lunches for us with judges, with U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein, and with former summer law clerks who are now clerking for District Court judges. We went on a tour of “Supermax,” the prison that houses federal detainees here in Baltimore, and we visited the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, where we watched autopsies being performed. Last Friday we had the chance to go to a training facility and shoot guns with FBI instructors. It was a great way to wrap up a very fulfilling summer.
I am very glad that EJF made it possible for me to spend my summer working with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland. I strongly recommend spending a summer working with the Maryland U.S. Attorney’s Office to anyone who is interested in litigation, and particularly criminal law.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia

This summer, three EJF recipients interned at the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia ( Betsy worked in the public benefits unit and Drake and Jason both interned in the housing unit.

While I have assisted attorneys with interviewing clients, conducting research, writing briefs, and fact-finding for a variety of public benefits cases, the most exciting case I worked on this summer was an appeal to the federal district court for judicial review of a decision by the Social Security Administration (SSA) based on a due process claim. This case involved extensive research into the SSA’s regulations and policy statements, the judicial review provisions in the Social Security Act, and the federal cases interpreting these rules and laws, including the applicability of the Due Process Clause. I considered this case to be pretty unique, since most public benefits cases focus on administrative procedures and appeals, and extremely compelling, because the client is homeless and suffers from several serious disabilities. I am continuing to prepare research for the brief to be filed this fall and I am hopeful that the suit will be successful.

I’ve loved working with Legal Aid to assist clients who have faced difficult barriers to obtaining the benefits they need to survive and who otherwise could not afford legal help. This summer has revived my commitment to working as a public interest lawyer, and I am thankful for EJF’s support.

For ten weeks at the Legal Aid Society of DC I assisted dedicated poverty attorneys representing low income clients in landlord-tenant and other civil matters in DC Superior Court and local administrative agencies. My responsibilities included drafting motions and memoranda, formulating trial strategies, and researching evidentiary issues. I also performed client housing inspections and had the opportunity to spend ample time at both Superior and Landlord Tenant Court shadowing Legal Aid attorneys in the many stages of trial practice.

Working at Legal Aid Society definitely helped me better understand the nature of public interest lawyering. I chose Legal Aid because I wanted to work on the frontlines of social justice and the organization did not disappoint. From listening and observing the uphill battle the majority of DC’s indigent population faces daily and the personal satisfaction I received from supporting them and helping them fight back, I know I will continue public interest lawyering.

As an intern in the housing law unit, I helped serve low-income clients facing eviction and other housing crises. In the District of Columbia, like many jurisdictions, Landlord Tenant court is extremely difficult to navigate without a lawyer, especially for residents with disabilities, limited English proficiency, or limited knowledge of their housing rights. I witnessed first-hand the value a lawyer brings to low-income residents who were able to prevent eviction, secure repairs to dangerous and unlawful housing conditions, or negotiate more fairly with their landlords because of Legal Aid’s assistance.

While I am dedicated to building a career in direct legal services in the D.C. area upon graduation, it would have been more difficult for me to work at the Legal Aid Society without summer funding from the Equal Justice Foundation. The internship was invaluable for my future career. I learned local law and procedure, strategies for motions practice and navigating court proceedings, and best-practices for legal representation that I will carry with me upon graduation. It was an honor to work with such talented and dedicated attorneys and to make a small contribution to the ongoing work to increase access to justice for D.C.’s low-income residents.

Equal Justice Foundation

EJF's Live Auction took place January 29, 2015 in Hart Auditorium and was a HUGE SUCCESS. Check the Facebook page for updates about other ways to help fund public interest activities for Summer 2015