My Work Placement in America: The Public Defender’s O...

My Work Placement in America: The Public Defender’s Office

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Natasha Ward, LLB (Hons) Law (Full-time)

The amazing opportunity to intern at the Public Defender’s Office was offered by Nottingham Law School as part of the Law in Practice Module, available for final year students to study. The module aims to encompass practical work experience with a written project which reflects upon what you learnt during your placement.

The application process was competitive. Initially I had to write an essay about the importance of pro bono projects in the current legal economic climate. Based on that submission, I was then invited to attend an interview.

I have always been fascinated with the American Legal System and so the opportunity to see if first hand was one I could not turn down.

I was really keen to obtain the placement because it sounded like a fantastic opportunity and one that I would not come across again easily. I admittedly attended America with ideas fuelled by TV shows, so I was initially expecting all things Law and Order, however although my experience was different, it was in no way was disappointing.

During my time in the office I was allocated a supervisor, which was one of the attorneys, who delegated daily tasks to me for completion. I would often get asked to complete research records regarding specific points of law or cases, look at case files of ongoing trials and visit crime scenes. A lot of my time was spent transcribing jail telephone records in preparation for an upcoming trial. However, I was given several opportunities to attend court and watch jury selection processes and trials which I found fascinating due to the stark contrast to the UK’s court etiquette.

I would also regularly attend jail to interview our clients. This initially was the task I was most anxious about, but it soon turned into my favourite thing to do. Although the jail was a shock to the system, visiting people in there was really rewarding.

It completely changed my perspective in relation to the way the system treats those accused, and gave me the opportunity to reflect upon how the UK treats inmates.

I was given the opportunity to see first-hand the initial stages of rehabilitative projects, which was a step away from America’s usual punitive approach. My time with these people made me realise that there are a lot of factors to criminality, especially in America where class, race and financial wealth have a greater impact upon citizen’s lives.

An accumulation of my time in jail itself and watching the American system has impacted me greatly to the extent that I have since decided to change my career path.  I now want to work within our criminal justice system, whether that be in prisons or the probation service.

My time in America along with the rest of my legal work experience has definitely changed and shaped what it is I want to do in the future. I have decided that I really want to work in the criminal justice system in some capacity, so am currently looking for jobs as a prison or probation officer.

I really want to work with offenders in a rehabilitation capacity as I feel that sometimes our system can be too focused on punishment. I believe that during the aftermath of crime is the best time to equip individuals with the skills and opportunities to change their lives.

I have no doubt that my time in America will stay with me forever. The people over there were incredibly welcoming and friendly and I have made lifelong friends.

My advice to Law students seeking work placements abroad would be to grab every opportunity with both hands. As much as my internship pushed me out of my comfort zone, I can confidently say that I had the best experiences not only professionally but personally and culturally also.

I think that it is easy as students to become bogged down with the theory of the law and to miss seeing its affect on individuals in practice. That is exactly what international placements offer – perspective.

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