I am currently interning as a certified legal intern (otherwise known as a “711” in Illinois) at the Public Defender’s (P.D.) Office in Cook County, which is located in Chicago! I am assigned to the Juvenile Justice division, which means we represent all children eighteen years or younger who become involved with the criminal justice system.
A typical day for me consists of going to court every morning until about 11:30 AM – 12:00 PM, otherwise known as “Docket Call.” During this time we meet with new clients who were either arrested the night before or over the weekend. Docket consists of everything from arraignments to trials, including sentencing hearings and violation of probation hearings. I am assigned to the same courtroom and judge for the entire summer and even though he moves very quickly, there is a lot to be done during this time. Usually we just meet with our clients, explain the status of the case, what they are being charged with, or if it is a trial date, determine whether or not they have decided if they want to testify, among various other things. IL is similar to FL in that most juvenile cases are what are called bench trials, meaning that the judge essentially is the jury.
As a certified legal intern/711, I am able to speak with clients on my own while my supervising attorney is in the room with me. Additionally, I am able to do parts of a trial, such as the direct or cross-examination of a witness or even the closing statement all on my own. If there is ever a motion hearing, for example a motion to suppress, I can also draw that up and argue it in court. I basically get to act as a junior attorney under the supervision of a licensed attorney even though I am still in law school.
The second half of the day consists of prepping for upcoming cases or meeting with clients in lockup and conducting client interviews. There are a lot of differences from the FL and IL legal systems, but I think getting to experience and learn both will only benefit me in the long run. Everyone in my office is extremely kind and very helpful. Because they are unionized, most of the P.D.’s have been in the division for 10+ years – this is very rare in Florida P.D. and State Attorney offices, which often have a very high turnover rate. The fact that these people have almost “grown up” with each other for the past 10 or so years makes for a really comfortable and collegial working atmosphere and is definitely one of my favorite parts about my internship thus far.
Although I’m only two weeks in, I’ve already learned so much about what it means to be an attorney rather than just a law student. I’m also learning how to find a balance between being a zealous but also respectful advocate for my client. All in all, it is an experience I highly recommend to any student, especially those considering a career in criminal law or litigation in general. Very rarely do programs allow students to gain such hands on experience within an actual courtroom, so this opportunity is invaluable if not just for that sole factor!
Samantha Lowe, 3L