Advice from The Public Interest Law Center
Students considering a career in criminal practice generally should seek to intern for the summer and/or during the semester in a prosecutor’s or public defender’s office in order to:
- explore whether they enjoy the work;
- gain valuable experience for the post-graduate job search;
- make an impression on potential future employers. It is most useful to spend a 2L summer in such an office because 2Ls are given more responsibility and thus gain more experience.
Almost all prosecutor and public defender offices hire interns, both during the school year and during the summer. Students should meet with PILC counselors and professors to discuss the specific offices that are the best fit for them. Many offices interview at the NYU PILC Fair in February, and also interview 2Ls and 3Ls during fall On Campus Interviewing (OCI), organized by OCS.
First year students seeking an internship with prosecutor or public defender offices that are not interviewing at the PILC Fair can apply by sending a cover letter and résumé. Interviews for internships can last anywhere from twenty minutes to an hour. Some offices may ask questions about criminal issues to assess a student’s thinking and judgment.
In deciding where to intern during a summer or academic year, students should consider:
- Where they want to live after graduation, as the surest way to get an offer from that office is to spend a summer there.
- Whether interns have the opportunity for direct interaction with the individuals involved in a case (for prosecutors: the complainant and police officers; for public defenders: the client and witnesses), observe court proceedings, and perform investigations, not just do legal research. Students are well-advised to ask the office whether interns have the opportunity to second seat a trial or perhaps even act as lead counsel.
- Whether interns are assigned to a specific lawyer or lawyers, or work with many lawyers. There are advantages to each model, and so students should find out from former interns how well that office’s system works.
- Whether former interns have received adequate supervision, mentoring, and post-graduate offers.
Information about specific offices is often available in intern reports filed on the PILC website, and also from PILC counselors and faculty members.
Students also can obtain other highly useful information from the Public Interest Law Center, including the “Prosecution Handbook” (a manual that addresses “frequently asked questions about prosecutor careers” and provides information about selected prosecutor offices), the “Public Defender Handbook” (a manual with equivalent information about defender practice and specific defender offices), and a list of post-graduate opportunities in the criminal practice area.
Other Term-Time and Summertime Opportunities
There are many lectures and events held during the school year that will be of interest to students who wish to pursue a career in criminal practice. The Hoffinger Criminal Justice Forum draws criminal justice academics and practitioners from all over the metropolitan area and beyond for a monthly presentation on a criminal justice topic. The Public Interest Law Center holds panel presentations on careers in criminal justice and also offers presentations for students who are going to prosecutors’ or public defender offices for the summer with tips about getting the most out of the summer experience.
Students who are interested in criminal practice also may wish to consider working as a research assistant for one of the law school’s criminal law professors during the school year or during the 1L summer. R.A. work offers an excellent opportunity to become deeply immersed in criminal justice issues and to work closely with a member of the law school’s criminal law faculty.
Students interested in criminal practice also may wish to consider applying for a fellowship with the Law School’s Center on the Administration of Criminal Law. The Center hires 1L and 2L student fellows every academic year, with applications due in April. The fellows work closely with the Center’s Faculty Director and Senior Fellows on all aspects of the Center’s work, including legal research and conference planning.