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When former Hastings College of the Law student Lindsay Walsh started her summer internship at the Alameda County district attorney’s office seven years ago, she never expected to try three cases. Walsh, then 24 years old, got mixed results: a hung jury, a guilty verdict and an acquittal. But for the aspiring prosecutor, the mere chance to litigate real-life cases in court solidified the experience. “They do put so much faith in you as a law clerk,” Walsh said. “They throw you to the wolves and see if you survive.” Walsh not only survived � she got hired the following year. Now she tries felonies. Although not many government offices allow their summer law clerks to try cases, plenty of them are known for relying on the adage: learn by doing. A typical day for a summer clerk could include cross-examining witnesses in a preliminary hearing, writing motions, interviewing clients or simply watching a trial. Public sector internships may not offer the same perks that come with big firms � like comp lunches, tickets to baseball games, or even a salary in some places � but internship coordinators say recruitment has never been a problem. The people who work in PD’s offices don’t put money first, said Assistant Public Defender Nancy Brewer in Santa Clara County. “People who are interested in being public defenders find it interesting, exciting work, and they’re very interested in the opportunity to actually get to do litigation,” Brewer said. Summer clerks at the U.S. attorney’s office don’t get paid either. “Just the fact that they’re passing up those pretty fat summer salaries shows their dedication here and what their interests are,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Derek Owens said. RACE TO THE COURTHOUSE At the Alameda County DA’s office, the goal is for all the summer law clerks to take at least one case to a jury trial before the end of the summer. By the second week of the current program, four clerks were already trying cases, according to Alameda County Deputy DA Kevin Dunleavy. Criminal justice internships are also moving toward adding more training, according to Susan Rutberg, director of the Criminal Litigation Clinic at Golden Gate University School of Law. Rutberg helps prospective law clerks find placements throughout the Bay Area. “The offices realize, I think, that they are getting enthusiastic students who make up in enthusiasm for what they lack in experience,” she said. “And to get the most out of them and encourage them to come back, they’ve become more willing to put more on the training end.” While some offices have the interns work with multiple attorneys, others stress the importance of developing strong mentor-mentee relationships. Santa Clara County Supervising Deputy DA Neal Kimball and Katherine Asada, the San Francisco public defender’s director of the recruitment and intern program, say those close relationships strengthen their programs. Students hunting for summer internships should note the difference between working at the local county offices and the federal offices. According to Rebecca Rabkin, who supervises summer law clerks in the federal public defender’s San Francisco office, federal court cases go to trial less frequently, so the interns tend to do more work on pretrial litigation. Summers at the U.S. attorney’s office are allowed to try misdemeanors in federal court, but their counterparts at the federal public defender’s office are not. Both, however, work on the motions or briefs that the attorneys then present in federal court. “Sometimes clients that we have have a little bit more stacked against them,” said Rabkin. Defendants in federal court might be investigated by the DEA or the Department of Homeland Security, whereas in county offices they’re using police investigations, Rabkin said. In some ways, the offices � not just the law clerks � benefit from having rookies around. Interns at the San Francisco PD’s office, for example, can sit with and listen to clients when attorneys are rushed for time, Asada said. At the Alameda County DA’s office, the summer program is the main hiring vehicle, according to Dunleavy. Nearly everybody in that office has gone through the summer program, he added. TOUGH COMPETITION Regardless of whether the offices pay or not, the competition for summer internships in government offices can be fierce. At the Alameda County DA’s office, about 200 interviews have to be narrowed down to between eight to 12 paid law clerks. At the Santa Clara County public defender’s office, only three of the 50-some applications get the paid positions. Offices that take volunteers tend to take in more interns, but they also must reject applicants. “I already get hundreds and hundreds of requests [from] students all over the country, all over the world,” Asada said of the year-round program. This summer, she has about 80 interns. The San Francisco city attorney’s office, with a staff of 200 attorneys, has 46 interns this summer. It’s not surprising that competition is steep. Internships at the local DA and PD’s offices have produced some hotshot lawyers. The San Francisco DA’s chief of the criminal division, Jeffrey Ross, started out in the late 1970s as a legal clerk in the S.F. public defender’s office. Well-known Bay Area prosecutors like Harry Dorfman, and Darryl Stallworth (who recently moved to an Oakland firm to do civil and defense work) tried their first cases during their summers at the Alameda County DA’s office. Still, bright-eyed law students don’t always leave these internships with a renewed faith in criminal law. The summer programs can also weed out those who find the work less fulfilling than they originally thought. Rutberg has seen it work both ways: Law clerks can either say, “This is what makes my heart sing” or they can say, “I can’t imagine doing this for a living.” Millie Lapidario’s e-mail address is [email protected].

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