My internship at Legal Aid Society NYC has changed my perspective on public defenders. For many years I have been interested in the world of crime and justice. I always wondered so many different things about lawyers. How can they defend someone that they know is guilty? It just never made sense to me. One of my teachers in high school who used to be a lawyer for many years answered my questions with “I trusted the system.” I was never content with this answer. I always figured that I could never pursue law because I wouldn’t be okay with defending someone who broke the law. This summer I was able to gain many answers to my questions without even realizing it at the time.
Legal Aid Society is a law firm that opened my eyes to the dedication that public defenders have to their clients. As the attorneys of children, the LAS attorneys work for the children the entire way through a case. It’s not about good and bad at LAS. Their focus is more on equality, justice, and fairness. Every child client is able to have a say in their life and their future. It was the LAS staff’s job to fight in and out of the court room to make things happen for the clients. LAS works against child incarceration because in reality that is usually not the best thing for the child. If laws were broken by a juvenile, LAS never viewed them as criminals. The juvenile delinquents were approached in a compassionate way by LAS staff with motivation to help make the child’s life better in any way possible. It isn’t that LAS staff are defending something bad. They are defending children that need advocates to fight the high powers involved in regards to what that child wants for a better life.
Even though most of my work was in the juvenile rights practice with family court and not criminal court, I was able to get a look at the work of LAS in criminal cases. It was the same idea as family court even though charges were criminal. All of the LAS clients weren’t looked at as bad people or as criminals. LAS staff works so hard to help their clients no matter what their case is about. The LAS staff make it a priority to pursue the best possible situation for their clients to make their lives better whether it’s through negotiating with the DA’s office for a lesser sentence or providing referrals to metal health services. LAS has taught me that everyone is human and that everyone should be treated equally. That sounds like common sense, but in reality its not upheld in our community. Once someone is involved in family or criminal court they are automatically treated as a lesser human being because more powerful forces are reigning over them. Just because someone is involved in a case within family or criminal court does not take away their humanity, which I think LAS fights for every day. It’s not about helping people that have done bad things. It’s about helping people be treated fairly and equally no matter what.