Meet the Johnnies: Sean Miller (A20)
The following is excerpted from a report written by Sean Miller (A20) as part of his Hodson Trust Internship. He spent the summer working in the Maryland Office of the Public Defender in Anne Arundel County.
Public Defense is an oftentimes overlooked, underappreciated, and perhaps even outrightly dismissed career path. I will admit that prior to my experiences this summer, I too held misconceptions and prejudices toward public defenders. My bias was informed by the mouth of popular culture: television, movies, news, etc. Nothing could have possibly prepared me for the surprise I was in for when I started this internship in May. The professionalism of the office, the way in which I was treated, the seriousness in which the cases were handled, and the tenacious advocacy the attorneys exemplified stunned me. I could not have planned a more transformative experience if I tried; not merely in reference to my understanding of the nature of Public Defense, but additionally my interactions with law, justice, punishment, truth, and how those ideas contribute to my desire to eventually practice law. I am more prepared to face the daunting expanse of time after St. John’s than ever before.
At the onset of the internship, I had a small amount of legal experience. However, it was experience in civil law and not criminal law. That meant that I was slightly familiar with certain research techniques, but completely lacking in case law knowledge, statutes, and legal arguments. My time at St. John’s prepared me for just this situation: a state of ignorance. There was so much that I did not know and so many questions that I had. My coworkers were incredibly kind and willing to talk with me about anything I was unsure about. Without them, I would not have been able to take on the projects that I did.
I was given a plethora of seemingly daunting responsibilities: researching discovery (medical records, jail calls, pictures, videos, police reports, body cam footage, statements of individuals involved, etc.), calling and meeting with clients, drafting and filing motions, and case law research among other tasks. I could not have asked for a more completely immersive experience in which I would have not only the ability, but the responsibility to work on such important matters. I was afforded the opportunity to accompany attorneys to the courthouse, and I attended quite a few pleas and trials. I was also fortunate enough to have spent the vast majority of the summer continuing to work after my official internship was over, and consequently saw the beginning and end of a few cases that I felt strongly about. The internship provided me with unparalleled legal experience that will be tremendously helpful later in my life.
My coworkers, attorneys and social workers alike, were some of the most driven and passionate advocates that I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. The caliber of work that they produced, even amidst the stresses of the workload, was astonishing. I could not believe how quickly I was made a part of the community there and they truly made an effort to help quicken my learning and develop my legal skills. I am forever grateful to them for the help they’ve provided me.
The most definitive consequence to my internship this past summer is not the legal experience that I gained, my accomplishments, or my phenomenal coworkers. Rather, it is the adjustment that occurred in my mind. Instead of viewing my eventual career as a means to an end, I’ve begun to view it as an end in and of itself. Speaking plainly, I see the potential of my career to not merely be founded upon making the most money possible or attaining the highest prestige. I was surrounded by individuals who cared for others rather than themselves, the poor rather than the wealthy, and those in need rather than those who have enough. Being exposed to this kind of selflessness and the monumental difference that it had upon our clients’ lives changed the way I thought about practicing law.
I firmly believe that public defense is one of the highest callings of those interested in practicing law. Nowhere else are you consistently fighting for someone who is in the most need, and nowhere else will you be exposed to the real consequences of your efforts in the same way as advocating for indigent clients. The potential to change lives is incomparable to other careers in law, as your clients are quite often not truly given a fair shot at justice.
I have always wanted to practice law. The images and connotations of that have always been rooted in wealth, fame, and power. It was not until I was given the opportunity, through the Hodson program, to see another possibility. One that was instead rooted in a genuine desire to put others first, and tenaciously ensure that justice, truth, and dignity apply to all.