Pro Bono, Student Posts

Winter Break Pro Bono: Charlottesville-Albemarle Public Defender’s Office

As fellows in the Program in Law and Public Service, we—Corey Parker and Ray Gans—know that we want to devote our careers to public service. We have also been eager, as 1Ls, to dive in and gain experience in public service. Volunteering pro bono hours with the Charlottesville-Albemarle Public Defender’s Office over this past winter break provided us with that experience.

Corey: Going into the winter pro bono experience, I was fairly certain that I wanted to pursue a career in public defense. I was also hoping that spending time with the attorneys in the office over winter break might help me to secure a position with the office this summer. What I did not expect was to walk away from those two weeks being so confident in my future path. Seeing how passionate the attorneys are about their work and their clients made a huge impression on me. They truly care about the people they represent and are dedicated to listening to what their clients want and telling their stories. The attorneys know they are doing important work and are committed to what they do. After spending time with them and hearing the stories of their clients, I know that this is the work I want to do as well.

Ray: I, on the other hand, entered the winter pro bono opportunity with an internship in the Criminal Section of the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice already lined up. Though I will be interning in a prosecutorial office this summer, I was really excited to work with the attorneys at the public defender’s office. I came to law school because I want to be what Bryan Stevenson calls a stonecatcher; I want to catch the stones that people cast at one another. Much to my delight, I found the Public Defender’s Office to be filled with stonecatchers. I witnessed the attorneys (and other staff members) treat their clients with tremendous dignity and with a profound sense that there is a common humanity found within everyone. These attorneys were willing to stand up on behalf of others who would otherwise be hopeless, vulnerable, and without support. I will carry the examples set by these attorneys with me to the DOJ this summer and to wherever I end up in my career regardless of if I work in prosecution or criminal defense.

Both: While at the office, we had the chance to see what the day-to-day looks like for a public defender in Charlottesville. The days varied tremendously from one to the next. Attorneys were in and out of court, arguing in bench trials and sentencing hearings in the morning, and meeting with clients or going to the jail to visit other clients in the afternoon. In this office, where they cover two jurisdictions (Charlottesville City and Albemarle County) and five courts, there truly is no such thing as a “typical” day.

Corey: While we do not know where we will ultimately practice, this winter pro bono experience gave us a glimpse of how life might look after law school, particularly for me since I am especially committed to public defense. And, in addition to everything else, I simply liked what I learned at the public defender’s office! The fact that I enjoyed my experience so much helped solidify my decision to pursue a career as a public defender, which is something I did not necessarily expect to happen in just two short weeks at the office.

The fact that I enjoyed my experience so much helped solidify my decision to pursue a career as a public defender, which is something I did not necessarily expect to happen in just two short weeks at the office.

Both: As anyone might expect, the attorneys at the office were busy. They have heavy caseloads and were especially burdened while in the process of filling an empty position in the office. Despite their busyness, the attorneys still took the time to tell us about their cases and to answer our many questions. If there was an interesting trial or hearing, they made sure to let us know so that we could observe and learn. The entire office was kind and extremely grateful for the help we were able to give them, which came primarily in the form of research and helping in discovery. But we walked away from the two weeks feeling as if we were the real beneficiaries of the time that we spent there. It was a great experience and one that we would highly recommend to anyone, both to learn about the work that you may be interested in and to see what life might look like in that job. And, as a bonus, Corey ended up with a summer internship at Charlottesville-Albemarle Public Defender’s Office as a result of the relationships she built through winter pro bono.

Corey is a first-year law student pursuing a career in public defense. Corey is originally from Houston, Texas and graduated from Illinois State University, where she played softball and graduated with a degree in chemistry. Prior to law school, she worked for Caterpillar, Inc., first in sales and then in mergers and acquisitions. During her time with Caterpillar, she lived in Singapore, Germany, South Carolina, Illinois and Virginia.  In her free time, Corey enjoys running, traveling and spending time with her husband and two dogs. This summer Corey will intern with the Charlottesville-Albemarle Office of the Public Defender.

Ray Gans is a first-year law student from Columbus, Ohio. He attended The Ohio State University, majoring in Political Science and Public Affairs. He will be spending his 1L summer in the Criminal Section of the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice. He plans to pursue a career in criminal justice.


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