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The summer before coming to HLS, 3L Ieshaah Murphy was an intern investigator at the Public Defender Service in Washington, D.C. The experience of working closely with indigent clients convinced her that she wanted to work within the criminal justice system for the benefit of poor communities of color. Attracted to criminal justice issues, Ieshaah joined several student organizations that aligned with her interests. In PLAP Ieshaah took on her first administrative hearing, defending a prisoner in a disciplinary proceeding. Ieshaah worked hard to prepare and present a thorough argument for her client, who the hearing officer ultimately found not guilty of all charges. During her 1L year, Ieshaah also participated in several trial advocacy competitions through the Black Law Students Association and started to meet some older students who were able to recommend good clinics and professors with interests in criminal justice.

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Her 1L summer Ieshaah worked at the Southern Center for Human Rights and, among other experiences, advocated for an inmate before the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles. The parole hearing and other assignments at the Southern Center showed her just how important it was for everyone facing the loss of liberty to have a strong and committed advocate by his/her side. After that summer, Ieshaah wanted to become a public defender and sought out every opportunity to learn more about the work. During her 2L year, she participated on the Criminal Justice Institute Trial Advocacy Team and represented Harvard at two trial advocacy competitions. For her second summer Ieshaah worked with the Bronx Defenders. The office appealed to her because of its “holistic representation” approach. Once she began working there she really liked how the office tried to be a part of the community, open for drop-ins who have legal questions.

Much of Ieshaah’s work involved legal research, but over the course of the summer she was able to second chair a trial, assisting in overall strategy and prepping the client to take the stand. She also worked in the community intake branch of the office, meeting people with legal questions and referring or helping them according to their needs. The highlight of the summer was helping to draft a letter to a judge asking that she give youthful offender treatment to a young client who had several past offenses. She got to go to court and discuss the letter with the judge who ultimately allowed the client to go home to his family.

Ieshaah loved the job. Working with clients everyday and seeing the results of her work play out in front of her strengthened her desire to become a public defender. She learned a lot of about working within the framework you’re given and making creative arguments – skills that are more difficult to gain in the classroom. Most importantly, Ieshaah felt like she was being of service to people who were often taken advantage of and ignored because of their economic status.

For anyone interested in similar work, she recommends getting experience working with clients through clinics and practice organizations as well as the Criminal Justice Institute and Trial Advocacy Skills workshop. She also noted that public defenders come in all shapes and sizes – not everyone was a loud, flamboyant personality and many of the quieter less assuming PDs were just as effective. If the summer had any downside it was the expense, congestion, and noise of NYC – the Bronx Defenders however, made it all worthwhile.

Written by OPIA 1L Section Representative Adelaide Pagano.