Competition for jobs in the legal marketplace is high and there is an increasing need for candidates to stand out. Therefore, having completed the BVC (now known as the BPTC) I decided to combine my desire to do something different, with my need to stand out in applications. I decided to travel to Houston, Texas as a legal intern where I worked on death penalty cases and appeals. This article is designed to give the reader an insight into my experience.
Legally, the law in Texas is completely different to that in England and Wales. I have no experience in American law, and nor do I have any experience with death penalty work. The prospect of working on cases where the client has a real prospect of being executed is daunting, however, I soon discovered that many of the skills I had learned and developed on the BVC were transferable and useful on my experience. I was provided with thorough training on the legal bit!
During my experience there was no typical day and I had the opportunity to undertake a wide variety of tasks. The tasks I completed included legal research, specific case related research, writing motions, interviewing a witness, and conferencing clients on death row. I believe that as a result of these tasks I have been able to use the skills which I learned on the BVC and apply them practically, which will hopefully assist in my career.
I personally believe that one of the great aspects of the British criminal justice system is the access to free legal advice. During my experience I felt that this was a feature that was missing from the American system, and many of those on death row have never really had fair legal representation. Therefore, non-profit legal organisations, like the one I worked at need as much help as they can get. I was always made to feel that the contribution I made was worthwhile and in return for gaining a unique legal experience I was able to assist in assisting people on death row.
Amicus and Reprieve offer legal internships with a focus on death penalty work, however, they weren’t suitable for me. Therefore, I contacted the Texas Defender Service directly and having been accepted onto the programme, I made the necessary arrangements. In terms of cost, the placement was unfunded and it is worth noting that you will need sufficient funds for flights, accommodation, travel to work, visa’s and the associated documents, food etc. Whilst the costs associated with the programme can add up quite quickly, I felt that the experience I gained made the expense worthwhile.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Texas and was thoroughly supported by all members of the Texas Defender Service and I feel that completing this placement has assisted me in my current legal employment, and will hopefully make me stand out on pupillage applications.
If you are genuinely interested in participating in a similar programme (or would like to make a donation to assist them in their running) and would consider being based in Texas you may wish to have a look at the Texas Defender Service’s website. Alternatively, my supervisor Kathryn Kase may be contacted by email.
David Lang completed his BVC in 2010 at The City Law School.
Imagine being near the scene of a shooting; then being arrested for this shooting along with your significant other even though neither of you had anything to do with it. Now, imagine being kept apart and held on death row for these crimes for almost two decades without access to good or experienced legal representation or a fair trial.
Imagine hearing the news that your significant other has finally been executed and it has gone horrifically wrong and it is all over the news for your children to see. Now imagine that eventually justice is served and you are exonerated due to fresh evidence surfacing but your children, who were just babies when you were arrested, are now fully grown and want nothing to do with you. This horrific story is not one in a million it is just one variation on a theme that is typical throughout the American Justice System. It is not surprising that miscarriages of justice are rife in a legal system that sets targets and rewards for the police and prosecution for results
Sam Blom-Cooper kindly wrote a piece for the main Lawbore site back in 2004 about his 5 months at the Louisiana Crisis Assistance Centre; fighting for those on death row. It's such an interesting piece that I thought Future Lawyer readers would be pleased to have another chance to look at it, maybe get inspired to look at getting some legal experience further afield?
As a special treat you can also read Sam's article:
Lethal Indifference: Tinkering with the machinery of death
This was first published in Easter 2008 issue 44 of the Middle Templar, magazine of Middle Temple. Many thanks to both Sam and the Middle Templar for permission to republish this.
Sam completed his GDL at the City Law School in 2004, his BVC at BPP and has been a member at 25 Bedford Row since 2006. Check out his profile here.