Conversations with Practitioners is our ongoing series in which we ask current practitioners about their careers.
1. What do you currently do?
I am a public defender at the Legal Aid Society in the Criminal Defense Practice in Brooklyn, New York.
2. What does your job entail?
I represent low-income individuals accused of crimes, ranging from low level offenses to charges that carry a sentence of life in prison. I meet my clients right after they have been arrested in criminal court arraignments and guide them through the entire criminal process, which can include trial.
3. What drew you to doing this kind of work?
From first grade to fourth grade I lived in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, because my father was working for the United States Agency for International Development. Being exposed to abject poverty made me realize that I wanted to spend my life trying to help those in need in some way. Then, during the summer in between undergrad and law school, I interned at the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia as an investigator. In that role, I worked with an amazing public defender who drew me to this life-saving type of work.
4. What did you do in law school or immediately after law school that has helped you develop your career?
While not the typical public defender path, working at a large corporate law firm for two years right after graduating from law school trained me to be a better public defender because I was required to provide high-level client services in an extremely intense environment.
5. Do you have any advice for current law students who are interested in working in your industry (or law students in general)?
Prior to interviewing with a public defender office, make sure you have a compelling reason for why you want to do this type of work. What is presently going on in this country within our criminal justice system is nothing short of the civil rights issue of our generation. Make sure interviewers know how deeply you care about this fight.
Adam Heyman is an attorney at the Legal Aid Society, Criminal Defense Practice, in Brooklyn, New York. Adam is a continuing legal education lecturer, intern supervisor and recruiter for the Legal Aid Society. He also guest lectures at various law schools on his work as a public defender and criminal law. In 2010, Adam took a six-month sabbatical to help run the nascent public defender system in Kathmandu, Nepal, as an international fellow with the International Legal Foundation. Prior to joining the Legal Aid Society, Adam was a corporate lawyer at Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer and Feld, LLP, in their Manhattan office. He earned his undergraduate degree from Georgetown University, magna cum laude, majoring in Theology. He also attended Oxford University, St. Peter’s College, studying comparative law. He received his juris doctorate from UVA Law in 2003.