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Pathways to the Profession: Alisan VanFleet L’13

August 06, 2012

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 U.S. and abroad. This dispatch from Alisan VanFleet L’13 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.

With the support of an Equal Justice Foundation grant, VanFleet is working in the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, which has reinforced her commitment to becoming a prosecutor.

I love saying “Alisan VanFleet for the Commonwealth, Your Honor.”  This summer it has been such a privilege to say it each day as a 2L intern at the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office.

After one week of intensive training - observations, lectures, and workshops - I, like the other members of my intern class, got tossed headfirst into a Municipal Court trial room at the Criminal Justice Center.  That fateful Tuesday, I shared the role of the Assistant District Attorneys standing next to me, made good on all the times I’d practiced that new introduction, and handled 10 criminal prosecutions.  The defendants faced charges of either knowing and intentional possession of an illegal narcotic, prostitution, or retail theft. 

In the trial room, I had four concerns.  What’s a good offer on this case?  Is the discovery complete, and does defense have a copy?  Based on this police report, will they be able to suppress the evidence?  Where are my witnesses? 

On an ideal day, the answers to the first three questions would go something like this:

I’ll offer 12 months reporting probation.

 Discovery is complete and passed. 

“Motion to suppress the physical evidence is denied.”

And then, after marking and moving all non-hearsay and relevant evidence into trial, I’d call the arresting officer to the stand.  He’d testify to having placed the defendant under arrest, recovering the narcotics, placing them on a property receipt, and handing them over to the chemistry lab.  I’d mark and move the corresponding seizure analysis showing that alleged heroin tested positively as, you guessed it, actual heroin! 

One guilty verdict and sentence later we’d be on to the next case. 

Thus another day would pass – exciting, fun, frustrating, chaotic, and marked by an amount of responsibility and agency that few people will ever know.

The pursuit of a career that would offer responsibility and agency, along with the opportunity to become an influential story-teller, the chance to represent people - especially the ones who share a home with me here in Pennsylvania - brought me to Penn Law. I remain hopeful that the things I’ve learned there over these past two years will propel this summer’s opportunity into a permanent position (fingers crossed so, so tightly) after I graduate and pass the bar (fingers crossed on that one, too).

My teachers have prepared me well. Classes I could not effectively prosecute without having taken include: Constitutional Criminal Procedure and Evidence, both with Professor Rudovsky; Criminal Procedure with Professor Bibas; and Trial Advocacy, taught by district court judges and experienced attorneys who all know exactly how justice is done in Philly.

And of course, nothing teaches you to be a zealous advocate at Penn quite as effectively as being present in its hallways. I daily engage in debate with people who insist that blue is actually periwinkle, interstate commerce means absolutely everything, and there is no such thing as a pointless argument. Within those same bustling halls a growing commitment to public service exists, exemplified by organizations like the Equal Justice Foundation.  A grant from that organization made it possible for me to forgo paid employment opportunities this summer in favor of my actual career aspiration.

-          Alisan VanFleet

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