Archive for Expert Opinion: Interviews and More

Standing Out During the Public Defender Interview

By: Ashley Matthews

Recently, the University of Virginia School of Law blogged a few invaluable tips from this year’s Public Defender Advocacy, Hiring and Training Conference (PATH), sponsored by the Public Defender Service of D.C. In a nutshell, passion pays off – you have to be able to show and explain just how ready you are to enter the field of indigent defense.

In a larger nutshell, here are the offered tips:

1. Know your personal motivation for being a public defender, because this will sustain your career.

2. Be realistic, but passionate, about why you want to be a public defender.

3. Convey that you are a “true believer” in your cover letter.

4. Since candidates start looking the same on paper, your passion and motivation should stand out.

5. If you’ve worked in prosecution or domestic violence, don’t be scared to address it.

6. Speak Spanish! If you don’t speak Spanish, learn Spanish! This increases your chances of employment.

7. Bring out the fact that you are client-centered in your interview.

8. Look at hypothetical questions from multiple angles.

9. When asked a hypothetical question, remember that public defender offices are paying attention to your instincts.

10. When role-playing, listen to your “client” and be mindful of your body language.

Click here to read the whole blog post!

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Managing Student Loan Debt: Getting Started

By: Ashley Matthews

Congratulations, law school grads – you did it! After 3 years of casebooks, study groups, outlines, and hornbooks, it’s finally over.

But now, it’s the moment we’ve all been dreading/ignoring: student loan repayment. As the end of the grace period creeps onto our calendars, now is the best time to prepare. It’s no secret that student loan debt can hurt your economic status in a major way. And on a public interest salary, repaying student loans can be downright crippling. (Just ask a few of the lawyers recently profiled by the Philadelphia Inquirer – one of whom was forced by debt to move back home with parents at the tender age of 49.)

The good news is that you are not alone. Student loan expert Heather Jarvis, a former public interest attorney, is committed to reducing the financial barriers to practicing our favorite kind of law here at PSLawNet.  So before you have a severe panic attack at the thought of being shackled to your loans forever, take a look at these pointers from a recent blog post Jarvis wrote about taking the first baby steps to deal with our giant loans:

1. “Figure out which loans you have.” Sounds simple, right? Maybe for some, but many law students have multiple loans from different lenders. Some loans may even come from private lenders.

2. “Decide which consolidation works for you.” Loan consolidation is key to Public Interest Loan Forgiveness. If you have a FFEL loan, things may get a bit tricky.

3. “Choose a repayment plan.” This sounds simple too, right? Once again, it may be for some people – but for others, crafting the right plan involves weighing multiple options.

For more important information and links, check out the full blog post at Jarvis’ website, This site is a wealth of information about student loans, so it would be smart to educate yourself well before you walk across the stage at law school graduation. The better prepared we are to handle student loan debt, the more we are able to commit ourselves to what matters most: using our law degree to help others in need.

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Moving to a Large Metro Area This Fall? Check Out Our Guide to Living on a Budget in a Big City!

by: Ashley Matthews

It’s that time of year again!

It’s already August, and the hustle and bustle of fall activity is starting. The last days of summer are drifting by, and many of us are packing up and moving on to new (and hopefully exciting!) places for law school, internships, or post-graduate work. We all know that some of the best places to do public interest work are in major cities like Los Angeles or Miami, but these urban areas can be alarmingly expensive, to say the least.

Los Angeles is one of the featured cities!
Photo Courtesy of

So what’s a starving student to do for fun on a tight budget while living in a thriving urban area? Check out PSLawNet’s handy guide, Having Fun on the Cheap in Big Cities, to get tips on living like a boss, but on an intern’s salary (or lack thereof).

Featured cities include:

1. Atlanta

2. Boston

3. Chicago

4. Los Angeles

5. Miami

6. New Orleans

7. New York

8. Philadelphia

9. San Francisco

10. Washington, D.C.

With information on all kinds of social and cultural attractions, this guide is full of fun things to do, places to go, and sights to see in some of the most popular cities in America. Keep it close while you explore your new city, and feel free to drop us a line at if you have any suggestions to add to the list!

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Interview with EJW Fellow Stephen Reba

By Jamie Bence

Stephen Reba is an Equal Justice Works Fellow (Class of 2009) working with the Barton Juvenile Defender Clinic at the Emory University School of Law. He is a native of Decatur, GA and is a 2008 graduate of Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School. Reba spent the year before his fellowship working with abused and neglected children and on the issues that affect them.  His project, Appeal for Youth, seeks reform in Georgia through the holistic appellate representation of youthful offenders in our juvenile and criminal justice systems.

Tell us a little bit about your proposal process. What made you want to try for an Equal Justice Works fellowship? How did you select your sponsoring organization?

My project, Appeal for Youth, provides holistic, post-conviction representation to youthful offenders in Georgia’s juvenile detention centers and prisons. We wage legal battles to free our clients from secure detention and to ensure fair and humane treatment during their incarceration.  In doing this, we often associate private attorneys from some of Atlanta’s largest law firms to help take on the fight for these youth.

When I initially came up with the general idea for the project, I went to the director of my now host organization (where I interned as a rising 2L) to make a pitch.  After agreeing to serve as host, we brainstormed about funding. Considering our target group was youthful offenders who committed serious and often violent offenses, we needed a funding source that truly cared about justice and was willing to focus on an (unsympathetic to many) underserved population. An Equal Justice Works fellowship was our first thought.

In crafting my Equal Justice Works proposal, I had multiple meetings with my host organization where we hammered out details and logistics. Throughout this joint process, the project came to life.

How does this fellowship fit with goals you had in law school or before? Is this the sort of work you envisioned yourself doing?

Both as a law student and as a lawyer following law school, I worked with youth in Georgia’s child welfare system. My current project is derived from that work and the often seamless progression of foster children into our juvenile and criminal justice systems. Through my work as a law student, I knew that I wanted to practice in the area of public interest juvenile law.

What is a typical day like in your fellowship? Is there such a thing as a typical day?

A typical day in my fellowship brings me to middle and south Georgia. The vast majority of our juvenile detention centers, prisons, and consequently, habeas courts, are in rural Georgia.  With a large caseload and a project driven by attorney-client contact, I spend much of my time on Georgia’s country roads, zipping by pecan trees and churches on my way to or from a client visit or court appearance.

Where do you see yourself in the future? What roll you think your fellowship might play in your professional trajectory, going forward?

Through Appeal for Youth, we’ve created a project that fights for kids who have been discarded by our system. We’ve not only won the release of many clients, we’ve also established partnerships that place our clients in a position where they can successfully reintegrate into our communities. In my view, no policy or legislative reform can bring about the same level of systemic change that begins on the ground. Equal Justice Works has enabled me to begin the fight for systemic reform in Georgia, and I plan on fighting until it’s won.

What would you say are the 3 most important pieces of advice for rising 3L’s who are putting together their fellowship applications? What about for students trying to decide if the program might be right for them?

The most important piece of advice I can offer is collaboration with your host organization during the application process. This partnership allows you to shape your project idea, which is essential to a strong application. Next, I suggest that you begin the application process sooner rather than later. If you’re going to meet and draft, meet and draft, you’ll need time. Finally, be passionate. If you’ve taken the time to come up with a project that will impact a group of people you care about, you clearly care. Let that passion show!

As an aside: Tell us a little bit about your work for the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange. How did you end up writing for them? What has your experience been like?

I hooked up with the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange because they were looking for a voice working with youthful offenders. I’ve used that opportunity to tell some of my clients’ stories. I’ve enjoyed being able to venture outside of legal writing and to focus on aspects of my clients’ childhoods for which there is no other forum. I’m privileged to be a part of the great work JJIE is doing.

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Check Out Our New Page: Having Fun on the Cheap in Big Cities!

By Jamie Bence (with snaps to Lauren Forbes)

Based on your response to our blog posts about New York and Washington, D.C., we have launched a new page on PSLawNet called Having Fun on the Cheap in Big Cities.

Each city’s write up features free and cheap activities, as well as resources for finding things to do.  Whether you are a law student completing an internship or a public interest lawyer, there are suggestions for everything from day trips to happy hours. We’ve picked the best (and cheapest) for Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.

Of course, if you’ve been to or lived in one of these locales, we welcome your suggestions in the comments or via

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Expert Opinion: Recent Law Grad Seema Ahmad on her Public Interest Work

We continue PSLawNet’s Expert Opinion series with an interview with Seema Ahmad, a staff attorney at Advancement Project.  She works on the “Ending the Schoolhouse to Jailhouse Track” team to end policies that over-criminalize youth and push them out of school.  In addition to speaking about the substance of the work she does, Seema provides insights into professional networking, building interpersonal relationships, and being flexible about the beginning of a career in public interest. Thanks, Seema!

Seema, tell us generally about the work of Advancement Project. Can you also talk to us about the work you to on a day-to-day basis, specifically for the program you work on?

Advancement Project is a civil rights organization committed to advancing universal opportunity and a just democracy.  AP specifically seeks to support and amplify the work of community groups and coalitions throughout the country and to support the national movement for social justice.

Specifically, I work within our “Ending the Schoolhouse to Jailhouse Track” project where we seek to combat overly harsh school discipline practices as well as other policies that criminalize youth within the public school system and that set them on a path toward incarceration instead of education.  As an organization committed to racial justice, this “school to jail” track is particularly disturbing in that it disproportionately affects low-income youth and youth of color.  The exciting thing about my work is that it varies greatly depending on the day.  I essentially work in partnership with a number of community organizations and on any given day, I may be at a school district meeting in Philly or working with organizers in Denver to shoot a video depicting the school-to-jail-track.  When I’m in my office, I’m often  reviewing school policies and state laws on school discipline and strategizing with organizers about their campaigns to end the school-to-jail-track.

You started your career as a fellow at the Open Society Institute, and then transitioned to Advancement Project.  Could you tell us how that process played out for you and any advice you found helpful for new attorneys interested in public interest work?

Immediately following law school, I was on a 1-year fellowship at OSI which I received from the Human Rights Institute at Georgetown Law.  I worked on post-9/11 civil liberties issues and had an incredible experience.  As my fellowship was coming to a close, I depended heavily on my OSI supervisors to both keep me in mind as they heard of job openings and to serve as references.  Obviously, finding a public interest job is incredibly difficult and it helps if you have mentors and supervisors that may know of opportunities that don’t have formal postings or that are willing to make a phone call for you,  It can make all the difference.

Are there particular activities that you undertook in law school that gave you the skills and abilities you utilize now?

Aside from learning traditional legal skills, being an active student leader on campus was tremendously helpful.  Much of the coalition work we do at AP or the work we do with our community partners is not completely unlike organizing and I feel like my experience in school gave me at least a small window into the amazing work of our community partners.  In addition, I feel very lucky to have taken some incredible classes on organizing, critical race theory, and race and the criminal justice system that made me well-prepared for my current job.

Can you give us three pieces of advice you’d offer law students or recent graduates who are on public interest career paths to arm them in their job search?

1)     I honestly don’t think I have any pearls of wisdom that folks haven’t read in a handbook or heard a million times over.  I think the job search process is extremely difficult and stressful.  I know this isn’t concrete advice geared toward getting a job specifically, but I would say it’s important to not get down on yourself and treat yourself well!

2)     Don’t be afraid to cold-call people at potential places of employment and try to set up a time to chat – even if by phone.  I think in general that kind of enthusiasm can only be seen as a positive thing.

3)     I think expanding the search to all possible things you could be interested in is important.  Sometimes we have a fixed vision of what we want to do or what area of law we want to work in but I do think it’s important to be flexible and allow opportunities you wouldn’t have thought of to surprise you.

Steering back to your work for our final question: some have speculated that one of the recession’s silver linings is that fact that states have been forced to visit the impact that mass incarceration has on their budgets as they must pay for heavily crowded incarceration systems.  Have you seen any signs that post-recession fiscal considerations may compel states to revisit the policy debates about non-violent crimes that incarcerate many young people?

This is an excellent and very timely question.   The resounding answer is yes.  One of our main arguments at AP is that harsh school discipline and the criminalization of youth has extraordinarily high costs (in addition to being ineffective when it comes to promoting school safety and academic achievement).  There is a host of proven interventions that help youth grow into productive, healthy adults, that create safe school environments, and that improve academic achievement.  Over the long run, these interventions certainly cost less than incarcerating our youth for relatively minor misbehavior in school.  After all, the latter approach results in not only costs emanating from the juvenile justice system, but broader costs to communities and to society at large.

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Expert Opionion: CAPITALizing on a Public Interest Budget this Summer in DC

By Jamie Bence and Lauren Forbes

Our last post focused on free things you can do in the District. These activities aren’t free, per se, but they can accommodate the summer public interest intern budget. At the bottom, you can find our list of the best Happy Hours, as well as suggestions from The Washington Post.

Sunday at Eastern Market:  By far, one of the best places to eat great food, people-watch and sample local arts and crafts in DC on a Sunday. The market first opened in 1873 and is on Capitol Hill. Plan to spend the whole morning as there is plenty to enjoy.

Take in a show at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company:  Keep your wallet full with Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company’s “Pay-What-You-Can” tickets for the first two performances (usually Monday and Tuesday) of every main stage subscription series production. Tickets are sold at the theatre 90 minutes prior to showtime. Two per person, cash or check only. Check the individual show calendars for specific dates, times and locations.

Farmer’s Markets:  The DC area has several excellent options for locally grown, fresh produce. The White House Farmer’s Market is located at 810 Vermont Avenue, NW (between H St, NW and I St, NW), Thursdays from 3 to 7pm. Another large and popular market is located in Dupont Circle on 20th Street, Sundays from 8:30am to 1pm. If you’re looking the get out of the city, the nation’s oldest farmer’s market (and the one where George Washington’s vegetables were sold) takes place at 301 King Street, Alexandria, on Saturdays from 5:30 to 11am.

Kennedy Center: If you’re going to take in a show, you might as well go all out and see it where presidents do. Even if Wicked is outside your price range, the Kennedy Center has plenty of free events, and discounted young adult tickets. The theater is a beautiful monument in itself- with a rooftop view that can’t be beat!

Happy Hour Roundup:

Farragut North/Dupont

Café Citron, 1343 Connecticut Ave., NW:Check out this Dupont Circle hotspot for a tropical-flavored happy hour. The fried plantains and mini crab cakes are delicious. Fruity drinks like mojitos ($4) and tropical rum lemonade ($4), and bottled beers like Corona ($3) and Portuguese Sagres ($3) are discounted. Happy hours: Monday through Friday, 5 to 7 PM.

Capitol Hill

Capitol Lounge 229 Pennsylvania Ave., SE: After a fire ripped through this popular Hill bar in August 2005, it reopened with a fresher look, the same quirky political posters, and the same good happy-hour deals. Suit- and khaki-clad Hill staffers talk politics and sip on $2.50 beers and $3.50 rail drinks.


Rhino Bar & Pumphouse 3295 M Street, NW: A great sports bar with specials every night of the week!

Check out The Washington Post‘s Guide to Intern Happy Hours for additional suggestions!

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