Federal Defender Taking Questions

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AFD Anon
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Federal Defender Taking Questions

Post by AFD Anon » Sun Aug 04, 2019 2:13 pm

I'm an Assistant Federal Public Defender. Ask me anything!

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haus
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Re: Federal Defender Taking Questions

Post by haus » Sun Aug 04, 2019 2:54 pm

What do you consider the best and worst elements of your job?

AFD Anon
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Re: Federal Defender Taking Questions

Post by AFD Anon » Sun Aug 04, 2019 3:30 pm

haus wrote:
Sun Aug 04, 2019 2:54 pm
What do you consider the best and worst elements of your job?
In no particular order...

Best:
-Fighting against the current regime and its policies undercutting the Constitution
-A lot of interesting constitutional issues come your way
-Helping the most vulnerable at their lowest point avoid ridiculously high guideline sentences
-Helping immigrants and reuniting separated families
-A lot of training opportunities
-International travel for extraditions
-Decent lifestyle balance and pay

Worst:
-The worst aspects apply to any litigation-related work (not wanting to look like a fool in court, trial prep, difficult client/witness management)
-AUSAs seem powerless in applying some of the government's worst policies (namely, the prosecution of 1325/1326 and dividing families), which severely limits what we can do.
-Federal judges think they're Gods. It can be really frustrating.
-Due to the current government, things can drastically change from one day to another, adding to the stress of the job.


It's a really awesome and fulfilling job. I highly recommend it.

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pozzo
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Re: Federal Defender Taking Questions

Post by pozzo » Sun Aug 04, 2019 5:12 pm

Path to your current job?

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Toni
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Re: Federal Defender Taking Questions

Post by Toni » Mon Aug 05, 2019 8:15 pm

I assume the decent lifestyle translates to numerous 9-5 workdays and that many nights and weekends are often free.... anything else? Say more about the decent pay and the other benefits. How and when does your career top out?

The difference between working in a large metro vs. other market sizes? At law firms it goes from associate up to partner, what is the food chain like in your world? Thx.

AFD Anon
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Re: Federal Defender Taking Questions

Post by AFD Anon » Wed Aug 07, 2019 10:10 pm

One thing that I neglected to mention in the "cons" list was that the emotional toll a lot of your cases can take. You're seeing immigrants being ripped from their families, sobbing in the attorney booth, and no one giving a fuck, especially in today's world.

pozzo wrote:
Sun Aug 04, 2019 5:12 pm
Path to your current job?
state defender -> federal government attorney (non-criminal) -> federal defender

Toni wrote:
Mon Aug 05, 2019 8:15 pm
I assume the decent lifestyle translates to numerous 9-5 workdays and that many nights and weekends are often free.... anything else? Say more about the decent pay and the other benefits. How and when does your career top out?

The difference between working in a large metro vs. other market sizes? At law firms it goes from associate up to partner, what is the food chain like in your world? Thx.
Officially, we work 8-5 with an hour lunch, though usually no one takes an hour (I eat at my desk while working and use the extra time to leave early). In practice, my schedule is pretty fluid. I may come in earlier to prep for court, or come in later as long as I don't have court. As long as you work a total of 40 hours a week and show up to court, you're good. You can also earn comp time (basically extra vacation days) if you work more than 40.

That goes out the window during trial prep, of course. You may be working late or coming in on weekends for several weeks prior to trial. Anything it takes, basically. You can rack up a lot of comp time for the extra work, but you're limited to 10 extra days off a year. You can get a day of administrative leave after a trial to cool off. Trials are rare, but trial prep is not as rare because you don't know what cases will plea out and have to prepare each case. As a whole, though, the job provides a lot of flexibility within the inherent demands of a litigation job, and there is no micromanagement.

Pay is decent considering it's generally a 40 hour week job. How salaries are calculated is a bit murky. By law, our salaries are pegged to the salaries of AUSAs with similar experience. AUSAs, in turn, are paid under DOJ's AD pay scale. Unlike the GS scale, the AD scale doesn't provide exact salary figures; rather, it provides a spectrum. Theoretically, where you land on the spectrum depends on total years of legal experience and job performance. For example, I have about 4 years of legal experience and make around 100k in "flyover country." Having entered federal service on the GS scale, I haven't quite figured out how they reached that salary number.

You're pretty much guaranteed to max-out your salary without any sort of competition. The max salary where I am is in the 150s, which is pretty good in flyover country working 40 hours a week. It takes about 10 years of total legal experience to max-out.

Once you've maxed out, or perhaps in the years leading up to maxing out, you can try becoming a supervisor attorney. It doesn't come with a higher salary, but it reduces your caseload in exchange for taking up management responsibilities over other defenders. However, there is virtually no micromanagement. So, it's basically a defender job with a reduced caseload. Supervisor attorneys are also natural candidates for Federal Defender, but that job doesn't seem very desirable. You don't have a caseload, but it doesn't come with a salary increase (apart from the nominal raise of $1), and most attorneys seem more comfortable working as, you know, attorneys rather than as managers.

The most popular late career option seems to be magistrate judge. Rarely, defenders will go to the private sector. Those that I know that left to the private sector came straight back.

JusticeforTyrion
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Re: Federal Defender Taking Questions

Post by JusticeforTyrion » Fri Aug 09, 2019 5:59 pm

This is a career path I am very interested in; I've always known I would enter the public sector but haven't been certain exactly which position I would want to join. I'm currently a rising 2L who just finished a summer internship with a federal judge (who, thankfully, didn't think they were a god). What would you recommend for my 2L summer and moving forward if I hope to eventually serve as a federal defender?

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ggocat
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Re: Federal Defender Taking Questions

Post by ggocat » Fri Aug 09, 2019 6:11 pm

Does your office have legal writing specialists (or some similar job title)? What can you dsay about those jobs? Similar hours and pay? I see one of those pop up every few years and get curious.

Were you affected by the shutdown?

About how long have you been in the job? How many years were you a state defender? Why did you leave that job?

AFD Anon
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Re: Federal Defender Taking Questions

Post by AFD Anon » Sat Aug 10, 2019 6:44 pm

JusticeforTyrion wrote:
Fri Aug 09, 2019 5:59 pm
This is a career path I am very interested in; I've always known I would enter the public sector but haven't been certain exactly which position I would want to join. I'm currently a rising 2L who just finished a summer internship with a federal judge (who, thankfully, didn't think they were a god). What would you recommend for my 2L summer and moving forward if I hope to eventually serve as a federal defender?
I love your judge already :lol:

I strongly recommend that you intern at a public defender office, whether state or federal, or a legal aid organization. The greatest asset one can have in seeking a federal defender position is empathy for the indigent. As an intern, ask to interview clients and assist with investigations. By having personal contact with clients and their families, you'll get a good idea of how you feel about the clients you'll likely represent as a federal defender. Indigent defense is not for everyone and may not be the right career for you. In my experience, defender offices are very tight-knit and are careful who they hire. Interviewers will tell if you're not "true believer" and will pass regardless of your grades and school.

If you enjoy the internship and truly see yourself making a career out of it, I strongly recommend that you go straight to public defender work. Federal defenders look for trial experience and hire extremely few entry level attorneys. Work for a state public defender/legal aid organization. After 2 years of legal experience and with some trials on your belt, you'll be eligible to apply to at least a few federal defender offices (most require more years of experience). Location is extremely important in this regard. While federal defender jobs are hard to get, those in major metro areas are insanely competitive. Your best chance in getting your foot in the door is applying to a federal defender office out in the heartland or borderland. Knowing Spanish is a huge plus and is even a requirement in some federal defender offices.

From what my colleagues have told me, once you are in a federal defender office, it's easy to get a federal defender job elsewhere, especially where you have family ties. The trick is getting your foot in the door.

ggocat wrote:
Fri Aug 09, 2019 6:11 pm
Does your office have legal writing specialists (or some similar job title)? What can you dsay about those jobs? Similar hours and pay? I see one of those pop up every few years and get curious.

Were you affected by the shutdown?

About how long have you been in the job? How many years were you a state defender? Why did you leave that job?
Not every FD office employs legal research and writing specialists/attorneys. The smartest people in my office are legal research and writing attorneys. They answer legal research questions, including cutting edge issues like the First Step Act and new Supreme Court cases. You draft sentencing memoranda, pretrial motions, and trial motions. You may also assist trial attorneys in trial and motion hearings and be involved in appellate and postconviction work. If you don't want to do trials or have a caseload but want to work in indigent defense, the legal research position is the job for you. The hours are generally the same as a trial attorney, if not a somewhat less due to not having to manage clients. The term pay is somewhat less in the long term.

If you really want to be a trial attorney, you can start out as a legal research and writing attorney. The position is a great way to gain federal criminal law experience and learn about the system before jumping into federal court, which can be very different from state court. However, make it very clear to your office that you are interested in becoming a trial attorney in the future. The number of trial attorney positions is determined by the Judiciary. You'll want to let the office know as soon as possible that that is your goal so that you can slip into a trail attorney position as soon as one is available.

I'll PM you re: your other questions.

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ggocat
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Re: Federal Defender Taking Questions

Post by ggocat » Sun Aug 11, 2019 6:10 pm

Thanks for the info and taking questions. Do legal writing specialists in your office typically float and work with the whole office on ad hoc assignments, or are they assigned to particular cases/teams where they might assist on the same cases from start to finish?

AFD Anon
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Re: Federal Defender Taking Questions

Post by AFD Anon » Mon Aug 12, 2019 8:47 pm

ggocat wrote:
Sun Aug 11, 2019 6:10 pm
Thanks for the info and taking questions. Do legal writing specialists in your office typically float and work with the whole office on ad hoc assignments, or are they assigned to particular cases/teams where they might assist on the same cases from start to finish?
In my office it's a mix of both. Specialists receive research and writing assignments as the come from federal defenders. Not all defenders use specialists. Those who do don't always ask that you stay on the case all the way to the end. But in my experience, if a specialist works on something substantive in a case (like a motion to dismiss), the specialist will usually stay on the case until the end. Substantive motion work will be your bread and butter, so you will be expected to follow at least some cases.

It's my pleasure!

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Echos Myron
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Re: Federal Defender Taking Questions

Post by Echos Myron » Sat Aug 17, 2019 6:48 pm

AFD Anon wrote:
Sun Aug 04, 2019 2:13 pm
I'm an Assistant Federal Public Defender. Ask me anything!
How helpful is a federal clerkship in the career path to becoming a Federal PD?

Do FPD offices hire attorneys from civil legal aid orgs or is it mostly state-level PDs and private sector big law refugees?

AFD Anon
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Re: Federal Defender Taking Questions

Post by AFD Anon » Sun Aug 18, 2019 4:47 pm

Echos Myron wrote:
Sat Aug 17, 2019 6:48 pm
AFD Anon wrote:
Sun Aug 04, 2019 2:13 pm
I'm an Assistant Federal Public Defender. Ask me anything!
How helpful is a federal clerkship in the career path to becoming a Federal PD?

Do FPD offices hire attorneys from civil legal aid orgs or is it mostly state-level PDs and private sector big law refugees?
Re: federal clerkships, they seem to be the second most common path to AFPD. However, based on what I've seen, attorneys who had a federal clerkship are often hired as legal research attorneys because federal clerkships don't give you trial experience. My office has specifically targeted federal clerks during the end of their clerkship for hire as legal research attorneys. Plenty of these legal research attorneys moved on to become AFPDs, though, and if you want to be an AFPD after your clerkship, I highly recommend that you accept a legal research attorney position (with the caveats I noted above).

Re: second question, I actually don't know any big law refugees who have successfully made the jump to FPD. Every AFPD I know was in government/PI at some point. Several worked at smaller private firms but had prior PD experience. The key is trial experience. Big law doesn't really give you that nor does it signal motivation for public service, particularly towards the indigent. I'm sure it's not impossible, but it's probably going to be really difficult unless you do biglaw -> state PD first, which financially speaking seems unrealistic.

I don't know an AFPD that came straight from a civil legal aid organization without having prior criminal defense experience, with one exception--highly experienced immigration attorneys. Nonetheless, I think any legal aid experience would be looked upon very favorably. It reflects sincerity in helping the indigent, something that is highly understated in law schools and can't be taught. While it would be very difficulty to land an AFPD position off the bat, I think you would have a decent shot in landing a research attorney position which, with planning, you can use to later become an AFPD.

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Echos Myron
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Re: Federal Defender Taking Questions

Post by Echos Myron » Mon Aug 19, 2019 4:20 pm

AFD Anon wrote:
Sun Aug 18, 2019 4:47 pm
Echos Myron wrote:
Sat Aug 17, 2019 6:48 pm
AFD Anon wrote:
Sun Aug 04, 2019 2:13 pm
I'm an Assistant Federal Public Defender. Ask me anything!
How helpful is a federal clerkship in the career path to becoming a Federal PD?

Do FPD offices hire attorneys from civil legal aid orgs or is it mostly state-level PDs and private sector big law refugees?
Re: federal clerkships, they seem to be the second most common path to AFPD. However, based on what I've seen, attorneys who had a federal clerkship are often hired as legal research attorneys because federal clerkships don't give you trial experience. My office has specifically targeted federal clerks during the end of their clerkship for hire as legal research attorneys. Plenty of these legal research attorneys moved on to become AFPDs, though, and if you want to be an AFPD after your clerkship, I highly recommend that you accept a legal research attorney position (with the caveats I noted above).

Re: second question, I actually don't know any big law refugees who have successfully made the jump to FPD. Every AFPD I know was in government/PI at some point. Several worked at smaller private firms but had prior PD experience. The key is trial experience. Big law doesn't really give you that nor does it signal motivation for public service, particularly towards the indigent. I'm sure it's not impossible, but it's probably going to be really difficult unless you do biglaw -> state PD first, which financially speaking seems unrealistic.

I don't know an AFPD that came straight from a civil legal aid organization without having prior criminal defense experience, with one exception--highly experienced immigration attorneys. Nonetheless, I think any legal aid experience would be looked upon very favorably. It reflects sincerity in helping the indigent, something that is highly understated in law schools and can't be taught. While it would be very difficulty to land an AFPD position off the bat, I think you would have a decent shot in landing a research attorney position which, with planning, you can use to later become an AFPD.
Thanks, this is helpful. What are exit ops like besides fed magistrates?

Were you a state-level PD in a city / large metro area prior to becoming a flyover FPD? Do FPDs ever return to state level practice or is it a one-way road?

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