How do you become a public defender? You set your mind to it, you go to law school, and you work really hard, just like recent New England Law | Boston graduate Jordan Strand ’19. Keep reading for an insider look at her path towards becoming a public defender.
I went to law school for one reason: to become a public defender.
My love for public interest law was cultivated early on. Growing up I was taught a very different narrative than my peers of what it meant to be a “bad person.” My mother always taught me that a person’s character cannot be judged by a single event or a series of unfortunate decisions when there is so much more to who they are. I carried my mother’s lessons with me into law school, and I have a profound sense of gratitude towards her for this.
Before law school
Before coming to New England Law, I worked as a defense investigator at the New Hampshire Public Defender. My decision to leave and pursue law school was difficult. I did not want to abandon my clients and the idea of leaving some of them mid-case felt unacceptable. But I also knew I wanted more responsibility and a role in the criminal justice system that allowed me to be an advocate. Law school was a necessary step towards that goal.
First (1L) year
The beginning of my 1L year was hard. I felt completely disconnected from my public defender path and had this overwhelming feeling that I was not doing enough. That's why I quickly joined the school’s CORI Initiative, a student-run organization that works to seal indigent individuals’ criminal records.
The summer after my first year, I worked at the Harvard Defenders representing indigent clients in show-cause hearings throughout Massachusetts. I was able to work one-on-one with clients, run conflict checks, analyze cases, develop defense strategies, negotiate with police officers, and make probable cause arguments before Clerk Magistrates.
Second (2L) year
In the fall of my second year of law school, I volunteered at the Federal Public Defender Office working as a research and writing intern. I got invaluable experience in terms of my ability to research complex legal issues and write motions. In the spring I volunteered at the Youth Advocacy Division of the Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS). The first time I ever saw a young child in lockup I quickly realized the depth of responsibility that comes with fighting for someone else’s liberty.
In the summer after my second year I volunteered at the New Hampshire Public Defender and was able to work under the state’s student practice rule (Rule 36). I represented dozens of clients throughout the summer. I conducted arraignments and bail arguments, negotiated plea deals and handled plea colloquies. I prepared for parole revocation hearings, motions to suppress, bail revocations and trials. I was able to meet some of most incredible people whose stories and experiences spoke volumes about their behavior and criminal liability. I received two of New England Law’s Public Service Transcript Notations for my volunteer work, which totaled over 650 hours after the end of my second year. That work also entitled me to recognition on the Supreme Judicial Court’s Pro Bono Honor Roll.
Final year and after law school
In the fall of my third year I went back to the Youth Advocacy Division in Roxbury, Massachusetts, for my clinic placement, as part of the school’s Family Law Clinic. I was able to work under the state’s student practice rule (Rule 3.03). Working with these kids was transformative for me. Teenagers are incredibly resilient, smart, and capable. They taught me lessons a textbook simply could not. For the spring, I enrolled in a second clinic, the Criminal Procedure II Clinic, where I worked at a different division of CPCS, serving adults in Roxbury.
These internship opportunities have only reaffirmed my desire to become a public defender. Last August I accepted a position as a staff attorney at New Hampshire Public Defender for after graduation.
New England Law Boston has provided me with the flexibility to volunteer and gain experiences I will use in my future practice. These experiences have both motivated and humbled me. I hope future law students interested in becoming a public defender do not hesitate to reach out to me. It is an incredibly rewarding field that is worth exploring.
Jordan Strand graduated from New England Law | Boston in May 2019. She is currently studying for the bar and set to begin working at the New Hampshire Public Defender Office in August.