The Office of the Public Defender 15th Judicial Circuit benefits from cohorts of legal interns and certificated legal interns, social work interns, and investigator interns. All interns are unpaid and enrolled typically in school. Often interns receive course credit, or work here as part of a clinic assignment. Applicants must maintain total confidentiality, be honest, and possess integrity and demonstrate a commitment to the mission of the 15th Judicial Circuit Public Defender's Office.
The PD-15th Judicial Circuit's Legal Intern Program involves rising 2L and 3L students. PD-15's intern program supervisors assign the legal interns to two attorney mentors—one from the felony trial division and one from the appellate division. Interns shadow the felony mentor at court hearings, depositions, and jail visits. Program supervisors and mentors assign the interns research projects and motions to write. The appellate mentor reviews all of the legal interns' writing projects and makes suggestions before the interns submit the project.
Legal interns attend a writing workshop geared toward improving their motion writing skills and various monthly CLE presentations with the attorneys in the office. Each week they have a group check in with two senior Assistant Public Defenders to discuss some of their experiences from that week and to get new assignments.
"My summer internship was an excellent opportunity to see first-hand what it is like to be a practicing attorney. During my internship, I learned about different aspects of the legal system, both in and out of the courtroom. I gained experience with legal research, motion writing, and examining evidence. Additionally, my mentoring attorney was great at making sure I had a well-rounded experience since I could not represent clients in court. I was able to attend depositions, client meetings, and court. Overall, it was a great experience."
—Cassidy Heitman, J.D. Candidate 2023, St Thomas University School of Law
"During my internship at the Palm Beach County Public Defender's Office, I was able to work on actual legal matters and vastly improve my research and writing skills. I learned a lot about the justice system, criminal defense, and how to put the theoretical skills I have learned during law school into actual practice. I experienced various stages of the criminal defense process including depositions, client meetings, and motion hearings with a mentor. I also worked with an appellate mentor who reviewed the motions I wrote and provided writing advice. Overall, I think the internship program provided an in-depth look at public defense work and how important it is to the community, as well as the impact it can have on people's lives."
—Julie Finston, J.D. Candidate 2023, University of Florida, Levin School of Law
"Interning with the Office of the Public Defender for the 15th Judicial Circuit was like an intensive course in criminal legal practice. As a Legal Intern, my experiences with the office, staff, and the courts gave me an in depth look at nearly every aspect of practicing in South Florida and criminal law in general. I spent hours in courtrooms simply observing administration and procedure, which helped me develop an invaluable foundation on which to build my career. Getting to see the "behind-the-scenes" as well as the representation to the court helps interns learn how to speak a client's interests using the court's language, while also ensuring that the client's perspective and interests are entered into the record.
Each intern in our intern cohort had one designated Attorney Mentor and one Appellate Mentor. I witnessed how Assistant Public Defenders make sure that there was always someone on the record invoking the Constitution's prescriptions for equal treatment under the law. We drafted motions for attorneys working on different types of cases for both felony and misdemeanor cases. Within a week of starting the internship, I drafted sections of a motion to dismiss, which led to felony charges being dropped and a more favorable plea offer. It was an awesome experience to be a part of the substantial and positive work that the work
Overall, the staff are all incredibly knowledgeable of both the law and the day-to-day interstices of practicing in South Florida. They all respect one another's work and contributions to the office and its culture. The Public Defender herself maintains a caseload, is a strong advocate for staff at all levels, and is respected by defense attorneys and prosecutors alike.
When I returned to school the next semester, I was surprised by how far ahead of my classmates I was with my understanding of trial practice. Before classmates in my Trial Practice class had a solid idea of which pieces of evidence in an artificial case packet supported or detracted from certain elements of a charge, I was already developing a theme and theory of the case."
—David Karpay, J.D. Candidate 2023, University of Maryland School of Law
Applicants should e-mail a resume, writing sample of no more than 10 pages, a cover letter, and draft transcript to: PDPalmBeachApps@pd15.org. Please indicate the type of internship for which you are applying in the subject line. For those applicants we believe are a potential match, we will reach out for an interview.
Certified Legal Interns are rising 3L students, who are participating in their law school's clinic or course. The student's law school must have requested — from the State of Florida — that the law student become a CLI. Students must have completed all state paperwork and received the certification from the State of Florida as a CLI. To be a CLI with the PD-15 Judicial Circuit, the law student must demonstrate their certification in advance of placement. (Note: it is also possible for a law school graduate to become a CLI if their employer submits a request — to the State of Florida — to do so and they complete all of their required state paperwork.)
CLIs perform many of the same duties as Legal Interns. Importantly, CLIs shadow a County Court attorney for a week (on average). Next, PD-15's Judicial Circuit's Misdemeanor Division assigns the CLI a small County Court caseload, for which they possess responsibility as they would if they were a practicing attorney. Assigned to a single division, the CLI works closely with, and are supervised by, the attorney assigned to that misdemeanor division. PD-15 Misdemeanor/County Court Chief reviews their cases with them. CLIs attend all court proceedings and act as the attorney of record for all of their assigned clients, with a supervising attorney present. Often CLI's leave their internship having tried one or more cases as the first chair attorney and multiple other trials as a second chair attorney.
"My time as an intern at the public defender's office was truly enjoyable. The degree of support I received at every level'from my chief, to the attorneys, to the support staff — was striking. Coming into this position, I had no legal experience outside of law school. As an intern, I learned to draft motions, argue motions on the record, communicate effectively with clients, manage a caseload and prepare cases for trial. My chief and the other attorney's helped me advance with each new level of responsibility. By the end of my internship, I felt more knowledgeable and confident as an advocate. Undoubtedly, this experience equipped me as a future criminal defense attorney in ways I did not expect."
—Jercoryia Council, NOVA Southeastern University's Shepard Broad College of Law
Talk your law school clinic professor and see:https://www.floridasupremecourt.org/Practice-Procedures/Certified-Legal-Intern-Program.
To become a CLI, applicants should e-mail a resume, writing sample of no more than 10 pages, a cover letter, draft transcript, and verification of their certification/sponsorship to: PDPalmBeachApps@pd15.org. Please indicate the type of internship for which you are applying in the subject line. For those applicants we believe are a potential match, we will reach out for an interview.
Social services members at the PD-15 Judicial Circuit assist attorneys and clients in many ways, which varies based on the client's needs, availability of community services, the number of face-to-face meetings with each client, and the offense.
PD-15's Judicial Circuit social work interns are typically local university MSW students, who work with the office for the academic year in order to establish and maintain a relationship with clients. To expose first-year MSW student interns to the field of social work, interns learn case management, interviewing, and assessment skills through shadowing one of PD-15's mental health social workers. Interns also work with juvenile probation cases to motivate offenders to complete the requirements of probation and ideally achieve early termination of their probation early. Second-year MSW interns and graduates focus on individual therapy.
"Much of my time as an intern was spent helping juvenile clients. I provided support as clients moved through the diversion program and learned how to communicate and motivate clients with severe mental health concerns. It was the most diverse and educational experience I've had. I enjoyed working with the team and learning how to advocate for clients using life experiences to help build mitigation for their cases. I also learned about linking clients to resources in the community that could assist them over the long term. Prior to my graduation, when the PD-15th Circuit social work team offered me the opportunity to work with them, I was excited and took the opportunity immediately. I love the work environment and being able to help the most vulnerable people in our community. Every day feels fulfilling and is worth getting up for."
—Sam Lightbourn, MSW, RCSWI, PD-15th Client Services Division and 2019-2020 Florida Atlantic University student intern
To become a social work intern, applicants should e-mail a resume and cover letter to: PDPalmBeachApps@pd15.org. Please indicate the type of internship for which you are applying in the subject line. For those applicants we believe are a potential match, we will reach out for an interview.
The Investigators' team is comprised of a diverse group of 10 people (on average), who typically possess a bachelor's degree in criminal justice or psychology. The Investigator Intern Program provides the PD-15 Judicial Circuit with interns so that college students have an opportunity to learn and train, free of charge, in the field of criminal investigation, which exposes interns to an exciting and rewarding career path.
Our interns, if enrolled in an academic program, can receive school credit for their intern participation. The PD-15's Investigators' team assigns each intern to a mentor investigator whom interns observe conducting client interviews prior to first appearances, interviewing witnesses, and tracking down leads. Interns eventually work independently to: conduct client interviews at the jail; track down information; locate and interview witnesses; review case files; and examine, diagram, and photograph crime scenes. Investigator interns learn about and use research- and legal-computer programs, participate in a security class at the jail, pass a background check, and have reliable transportation for traveling to/fr the office and to/fr the jail. Interns must also have availability on three days of the week/24 hours a week between the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.
"When I worked with the Florida Rights Restoration project, I was drawn to the public defender's office because of their leadership on voting rights' restoration for returning citizens. It was an 'almost' dream of mine to seek employment at PD-15 as my uncle worked here 20 years ago and because of Carey Haughwout's commitment to indigent clients. I first conducted research for Carey on pre-trial diversion programs and then applied for the investigator internship. As an undergraduate social work major from Skidmore College and now a Master of Social Work student at Florida Atlantic University, the internship opened up a new career opportunity to me. As an intern, I was one of the first people to meet with Public Defender clients and to show them someone cared about them. People with a range of backgrounds can become criminal investigators. I draw on listening, questioning, research, and speaking skills learned as an undergrad and on empathy for those living in poverty. I realized I could make a difference in people's lives doing this work."
—Kallie Atterbury, Former Investigator Intern and now an Investigator at PD-15
To become an investigative intern, applicants should e-mail a resume and cover letter to: PDPalmBeachApps@pd15.org. Please indicate the type of internship for which you are applying in the subject line. Prior to selection, Investigator Team members interview applicants, thus allowing both the investigator and the applicant to determine the suitability of the applicant to the demands and expectations of the program.