Guns, drugs, and murder


Like many law students, I never wanted to be a lawyer when I grew up, but if I had, I would have wanted to be a U.S. Attorney. Forget Clarence Darrow – prosecutors were the real heroes. They were master investigators, brilliant oralists, and best of all, they locked up the bad guys. Now that I’m older, of course, I know that there’s much more to being a prosecutor than a cool suit and dramatic flair. It’s still exciting and rewarding, but it is also one of the most intensely challenging careers a lawyer can choose, not simply because of the work involved but also because of the stakes of the cases. This past summer, several Harvard Law students rose to that challenge, and some of them shared their experiences with The Record.

Any student interested in litigation will strike gold at a U.S. Attorney’s Office. Interns spend much of their time researching and writing memos, often proposing trial strategy to supervising attorneys. Two-L Nathan Sabel, who interned at the Middle District of Tennessee office in Nashville said, “The assignments varied a great deal, depending on what sorts of cases were pending and the motions filed by the defense that needed response. I wrote drafts of those responses, investigated how well we could support charges based on a set of facts, and tried to estimate and anticipate any pitfalls of different trial strategies.”

Besides traditional legal work, interns might read witness testimony, draft waivers to be submitted directly to court or sift through discovery. Two-L Amy Guttman experienced this last bit of training while investigating what the government had disclosed in discovery prior to trial in a case involving a motion to dismiss a habeas corpus petition. Guttman, who worked in the criminal division at the Newark, N.J. USAO said, “my duties included digging through forty boxes of materials to pull what was relevant to the issue at hand, and then participating in brainstorming sessions with my attorney to work out the intricacies of the case.”

Interns at USAOs are exposed to an amazing array of cases involving such issues as guns, drugs, white-collar crime or even murder. Many of the students were unable to give us great detail on these cases, due to confidentiality. However, some of them had some terrific war stories.

Two-L Jacob Stahl, for example, talked about a case that he worked on while interning at the San Jose branch office of the San Francisco USAO. In that case, the defendant had attempted to submit a false divorce certificate in an attempt to obtain a residence. According to Stahl, “the case involved a fascinating set of evidentiary issues,” and a bit of drama as well – the defendant had been going back and forth between two wives. Stahl, who hadn’t thought much about litigation as a career before beginning his internship, got so involved in the case that he “was ready to burst in and conduct a ferocious cross examination” himself. Stahl also worked on a case involving a complex murder/robbery investigation that he was unable to elaborate on as it is currently before the grand jury.

Inside and outside the office, students interning for USAOs were given many opportunities to supplement their research and writing training. Most interns attended trials and motion hearings and worked closely with a variety of experienced U.S. Attorneys in their offices. “Observing trials was a great way to learn advocacy skills, see how various attorneys handled challenging situations…and just get a sense of what it is that U.S. Attorneys do,” said 2L Ariel Neuman, who interned for the Central District of California in Los Angeles.

Two-LMichelle Petersen also had the opportunity to sit in on trials, hearings and oral arguments at her internship for the US Attorney’s office in Chicago. “It was really interesting to see hypotheticals discussed in a law school class come alive with real-world meaning,” Petersen said.

Many interns also met with other law enforcement officials such as FBI and Secret Service agents, federal magistrates, and federal defenders. Others took tours of prisons or police academies. A few students even received handgun training or went through simulated training with equipment used to train FBI agents and police officers.

Two-L Tom Lue, who, like Neuman, interned in Los Angeles, said that one of his most memorable experiences was accompanying a U.S. Attorney on an FBI raid. Said Lue, “I went with him to the command center where a joint task force of FBI, LAPD, DEA and a number of other agencies were gearing up to execute ten search warrants in the early morning hours.” Lue was able to track the minute-by-minute progression of the SWAT team, and the agents wound up finding drug manufacturing equipment, cash and guns with silencers.

Every student who spoke with The Record was extremely positive about the working environment in their offices. Most worked around forty hours a week and spoke in glowing terms about the mentoring offered by the U.S. Attorneys. Stahl said, “spending hours talking with experienced lawyers about their cases and learning about trial strategy was one of the best parts of the experience.”

Students also talked about the dedication and devotion of the U.S. Attorneys, a compliment all too rare in the legal world these days. Said Neuman, who eventually hopes to return to his office, “The attorneys truly believe in what they are doing. The level of professionalism, ethics and seriousness that I observed showed that they do not take their responsibilities as prosecutors lightly.”

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