Yale Law Women at the US Attorney’s Office

Gangs, the Mafia, focused attorneys, stern judges. My summer at the United States Attorney’s Office, EDNY was a whirlwind of emotions and instruction. I came into the internship with no idea of what it meant to work in the Criminal Division, but I decided to throw myself into the deep end of the pool and take assignments specifically in the Organized Crime and Gangs section. There, I found myself under the wing of a wonderfully kind and helpful supervisor. She immediately gave me substantive research and writing work, sat down next to me to thoroughly explain Sentencing Guideline calculations, and whisked me off to status conferences and hearings so I could be exposed to as much of her work as possible within the short ten weeks I had at the Office.

Professional atmosphere aside, working as an intern at USAO EDNY shook me to the core. I was constantly reminded of the utility of the Office—inside the rooms are dedicated attorneys who toil in their research and motion filing, trying to obtain some sort of justice for victims and their families. This was most obvious in the courtroom. I felt chills run through me as I heard a sex trafficking victim address her captor at his sentencing and a daughter deliver a sob-wracked statement to a man involved in the murder of her father. At the same time, I often caught myself thinking about the other side, the many defendants caught in a cycle of substance abuse and attempting to find any way out of poverty. And the Office highlighted this perspective. It showed a powerful documentary about men released from prison and brought in a panel of public defenders that emphasized to us that prosecutors should really think about the effects of their actions. A few judges also recognized that certain defendants did not need the maximum prison sentence and incorporated this philosophy into their rulings. The criminal justice system is useful, but it can also generate bleak outcomes. However, such bench philosophies infused the entire process with a sense of humanity.

During my time at the Office, I researched many discrete legal issues, wrote comprehensive memos, made a bail argument in front of a magistrate judge, and attended extended witness proffers. As a result, I got into the rhythm of working within fast-approaching deadlines, the habit of reading with a very close eye, and the practice of maintaining a professional demeanor. I also spent a significant amount of time in the federal courthouse. As a passive observer during many of the proceedings, I struggled with the decisions made by the attorneys and the judges. I strongly feel that this emotional and ethical back-and-forth was the most valuable part of my experience. An attorney ponders, struggles, and proposes. As I struggled, I attempted to match the dictates of my conscience to possible appropriate legal strategies. That was where I truly developed as a law student, as an aspiring ethical attorney, and as a decent human being.