Editor’s Note: Each summer Penn Law students hone their skills through a wide array of private and public sector internships across the country and around the world. Generous financial support and fellowships for international and public interest work enable students to pursue diverse assignments in the United States and abroad. This dispatch from Siri Carlson L’16 is one in a series of firsthand accounts by Law School students about how their summer employment opportunities are preparing them for their legal careers. Carlson is from Jackson, Minnesota, and plans to work as a public defender. She will be clerking with the Honorable Jan DuBois in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania after graduation.
This summer, I interned with the Alaska Public Defender Agency in Palmer, Alaska. Palmer is located in the Matanuska Valley, an area known for its stunning scenery and agricultural heritage. The Palmer Office has 11 attorneys and eight legal staff members and hosts four interns each summer. While the city of Palmer has a population of under 6,000, the office serves a large geographic area that would encompass multiple states in the “Lower 48.”
My internship has been an immersion experience into the work of being a public defender. As a certified legal intern under Alaska Court Rule 44, I’ve spent the summer as a misdemeanor attorney, appearing in District Court on behalf of my clients. My primary responsibility is managing my own caseload of around 10–20 cases. I’ve worked with my clients on every aspect of their cases, from investigation to writing motions to negotiations and trial. In addition, I’ve assisted other attorneys with bail and change of plea hearings for misdemeanor clients and with research and motions for felony cases in Superior Court. While the internship has involved a high level of responsibility, the attorneys and office staff provide significant mentorship and support. The office operates under a very open door policy; in addition to the immediate supervision of the misdemeanor attorneys, I’ve received insight and advice from each attorney in the office. It’s a pleasure to work in such a welcoming and supportive environment.
Both my 1L summer internship and my coursework at Penn Law helped to prepare me for this internship. Last summer I worked at the Ramsey County Public Defender’s Office in St. Paul, Minnesota, where I was a certified student attorney and represented clients at misdemeanor arraignments and probation violation hearings. My coursework at Penn Law also laid the foundation for much of my work this summer, with Evidence, Constitutional Criminal Procedure, and Trial Advocacy being particularly helpful for this internship.
My summer experience as a public defender in the land of the midnight sun has been invaluable in shaping my career goals. Having the opportunity to work with clients in each part of a criminal case has confirmed my desire to be a public defender. I’m excited to continue my coursework in criminal law in my third year at Penn and to build on this experience in my future work as a public defender.
- Siri Carlson