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Committed to Public Defense

July 25, 2023

George Kunkel L'25
George Kunkel L’25

George Kunkel SP2’23, L’25 is working toward a career in holistic public defense alongside seasoned trial attorneys at the Orleans Public Defenders.

This summer, with support from the Leo Model Fellowship, I had the opportunity to work as a law clerk at the Orleans Public Defenders (OPD). I was initially interested in going to New Orleans because OPD has a reputation for attracting passionate, committed attorneys to advocate in one of the most notoriously racist, punitive jurisdictions in the country. The office handles the vast majority of criminal cases in New Orleans, which, as I was told during my orientation, is the most incarcerated city in the most incarcerated state in the most incarcerated country in the world. From backwards bail practices to decades-long sentences, that description was on full display during my time there.

My first week on the job, I was assigned to work with two attorneys: one senior, whose caseload consisted of high-level felony cases, almost all of which involved sentences of life in prison without the possibility of parole; and one more junior, working a caseload of over one hundred misdemeanors and low-level felonies.

Leveraging Legal Practice Skills

I was thrown right into the work: meeting with clients, drafting arguments and cross examinations for preliminary hearings, researching evidentiary issues like suppression of statements and the validity or scope of search warrants, and synthesizing copious amounts of discovery in preparation for trials.

Most of my substantive tasks involved, in part, learning relevant Louisiana case law. Not having taken Evidence or Constitutional Criminal Procedure as a 1L, I relied heavily on the research skills I developed in Legal Practice Skills (LPS). Far more than any other class, LPS prepared me to hit the ground running in a fast-paced work environment where I was expected to handle tasks independently, including teaching myself the basics of 4th Amendment jurisprudence and suppression of evidence.

Launching a Career in Public Defense

The most exciting part of my time at OPD was watching trials. Seeing a trial from start to finish – whether in one day or over the course of a week – from voir dire to verdict was exhilarating. In my first four weeks, OPD attorneys argued a hung jury and a not guilty verdict on two high-profile cases that would have sent their clients away for life had they been convicted. This experience vindicated my decision to leave Philadelphia for the summer because I got to see firsthand the skill and zealous advocacy of some of the best trial attorneys in the country.

The 10 weeks in New Orleans have only further confirmed my commitment to pursue a long-term career in holistic public defense. I cannot recommend the summer law clerk experience at OPD enough for anyone passionate about, or even just considering, a similar career path.

Read more of our students’ Pathways to the Profession.