Being heard is invaluable. Being understood is invaluable. Being seen is invaluable. The Federal Defender Clinic at McGeorge School of Law allowed me to gain real-life experience with clients who wanted to be heard, understood, and seen. The Federal Defender Clinic is a year-long clinic where students get real-life trial advocacy skills by representing clients. Criminal defense work is valuable and necessary to ensure individual rights are protected. The Federal Defender Clinic allows students to take part in that advocacy. I knew that this was the work I wanted to do, and I was proud to pursue it. I wanted to be a part of the Federal Defender Clinic, so that I could continue the valuable work of raising the voices of individuals who go through the criminal justice system. Every individual has the right to have their rights protected.
While in the Federal Defender Clinic, students get certified to become Certified Student Attorneys. The Clinic allows students to work on misdemeanor cases within the federal system. Students have the opportunity to work-up a case from the very beginning to the very end, and this includes the potential of going to trial. Students participate in both the Veterans and Central Violations Bureau (CVB) Courts to represent clients. This provides students an opportunity to speak in court and an opportunity to get on the record, which is an invaluable experience. This court experience allows students to get comfortable speaking in front of judges in a court setting. Most importantly, students gain communication skills by speaking and interacting with clients that are assigned to them. Not only do students learn to communicate with clients, but they also gain negotiating skills when speaking to U.S. Attorneys who are handling client cases.
During my time with the Clinic, I worked on various cases and spoke directly to the clients regarding their cases. As previously mentioned, the Clinic gives students the opportunity to work on a case that may go to trial. One of the cases I worked on during my time at the Clinic did go to trial. I conducted the direct examination of our client, the cross-examinations of some of the witnesses, and the closing of the case, while one of my partners did the opening, a direct examination, and the other witnesses’ cross-examinations.
I continue to use the skills I gained in the Federal Defender Clinic, in my post-bar position. I know I will continue to use those skills moving forward in my career. The Clinic helped me grow as a professional in order to become a better attorney in the future and a better advocate for my future clients. The Federal Defender Clinic is unique and invaluable for students who not only want to pursue trial advocacy, but for those who want to go into criminal defense, especially those students who want to advocate for individuals who need it the most.
By Jenny Salgado, ’23.