Through internship and pro bono programs, aspiring public defenders and private attorneys alike can sharpen their skills and advance their professional development while working cases in one of the nation’s most challenging criminal justice systems.
Internships – Generally
The Public Defender’s Office offers select internship opportunities for law students and, when available, for some undergraduate students. As either Certified Legal Interns (CLIs) or as Volunteers (i.e., non-certified interns), law students are afforded invaluable experience working alongside skilled and dedicated assistant public defenders in one of the nation’s most challenging criminal justice systems. The intern selection process is highly competitive. When we have appropriate, time-limited, projects, the Public Defender occasionally invites one or more college students to intern on the project. Regrettably, due to high demand for internships from law students, lack of adequate supervisory resources and space, we do not offer internships to high school students, nor do we provide “shadowing” opportunities.
Certified Legal Interns
The certified legal internship is limited to students who have completed at least two years of law school and meet certification requirements set by the Supreme Court of Florida. Interns are certified by Florida’s Supreme Court to represent our clients under the direct supervision of an attorney (assistant public defender) approved to perform that important function.
Law students interested in pursuing a career in public defense after graduation should get certified as soon as they can. If that is the case, it would be ideal to complete a certified internship with our office in the summer after your 2L year of law school or the fall semester of your 3L year. The application deadline for summer internships is March 15 and for fall internships it is July 15.
After attending the week-long Public Defender Orientation Program, certified legal interns are assigned to our felony, misdemeanor or juvenile divisions. These interns each work closely with an experienced assistant public defender who acts as their mentor. They do everything assistant public defenders do, such as conduct client interviews, take depositions, engage in motion practice, handle daily court calendars and try cases. The program is designed to be litigation intensive. Our certified legal interns are not assigned to endless memorandum writing in the library.
Students interested in participating in our legal internship or volunteer program can email their resume and statement of interest to Kevin Hellmann.
Mitigation and Placement Unit Internship Program
Candidates for a graduate degree in social work or mental health counseling can participate in our Mitigation and Placement Internship Program. We are always looking for inquisitive, insightful, empathetic persons with superior written- and oral-communications skills to work in our Mitigation and Placement Services Unit.
Our mitigation specialists assist assistant public defenders in all divisions by assessing clients’ individual needs and strengths and then developing rehabilitative treatment and sentencing plans, when appropriate. Interns receive formal supervision under which they may interview clients and their families. They also assist with preparation of psycho-social histories, access services for clients and learn about community resources. Interested students should contact their school’s placement office and must email their resume to Elisa Quesada, supervisor of the Mitigation and Placement Unit.
Ensuring Equal Justice Pro Bono Initiative
The Initiative is a community partnership established by Public Defender Carlos J. Martinez with civil firms, private attorneys, law schools, colleges and community groups.
As part of his community outreach, Public Defender Martinez turned to the private firms with his vision for a project that could enhance indigent clients’ access to justice, help the office better comply with constitutional, ethical and professional obligations, and provide valuable information to the community at large.
The initiative builds on the office’s tradition of receiving pro bono legal assistance from private firms for excessive caseload litigation, representation of individual APDs faced with contempt, and client representation on issues of statewide importance (litigating on behalf of a child whose arrest record was released to the public).
The primary focus of the program is direct representation in misdemeanor cases. Through both formal training and on-the-job training, individual attorneys and law firms advance their professional development. More than 100 private attorneys have participated since the program’s inception. This effort is greatly enhanced by the support of private attorneys who are members of the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers – Miami chapter, who have handled about 50 felony cases.
Pro bono does not substitute or make up for lack of funding. Even if every criminal defense attorney in Miami Dade County accepted one case pro bono, it would still be a drop in the bucket because the office handles approximately 70,000 cases each year. Participating in the pro bono program serves as a unique opportunity for the private bar to show support for the constitutional right to counsel, the indigent and the rule of law.