(Pictured from left to right: Jessica Hunter, Molly Amour, Anthony Plaid, and Carol Brook)
This Wednesday, four criminal defense attorneys from the Chicago area visited DePaul to discuss how they stand up for justice everyday. The lunch panel, which was hosted by the Center for Public Interest Law, featured a variety of defense attorneys, including a private practitioner, an appellate attorney, a federal attorney, and a Cook County public defender. Each panelist took time to discuss how they came to work as a criminal defense lawyer, their motivations for their work, the highlights and challenges of their job, and why students should look into criminal defense as a possible career path.
Though every panelists’ background differed, the common thread among the four was a true desire to help others in their times of need, to provide a voice for the voiceless. For example, Anthony Plaid, a Cook County public defender, said that while he enjoys the thrill of being in a courtroom, the highlight of his job is his ability to speak for those who can’t speak for themselves. Likewise, Carol Brooks, an attorney with the Illinois Federal Defender Program, said that although she likes that her job allows her to challenge authority on a daily basis, she’s most proud of the fact that her job truly helps people who would otherwise stand no chance.
However, the panelists are quick to point out that being a criminal defense attorney isn’t always so rewarding. The job presents many challenges, both from an existential and fiscal point of view. Private practitioner, Molly Armour, says she’s just getting by “by the skin of [her] teeth.” However, she says that the benefits of being a private practitioner, such as being able to spend more time with clients, drastically outweigh the drawbacks. Jessica Hunter with the Office of the State Appellate Defender discussed how the job can be challenging from an emotional aspect. She said the job can be “emotionally heavy” because it often requires attorneys to work with people who have committed some pretty serious crimes. However, Jessica explains that she overcomes this burden by focusing on the need for procedural fairness. She also said that she transcends the innate urge to judge by really paying attention to each client’s story.
The panelists also encouraged students who are interested in criminal defense work to get involved now. Molly Armour said that students should pursue nontraditional ways to get involved, especially because funding for public defenders is less and less every year. Molly even extended an offer to students in the classroom who wish to learn more about criminal defense work, saying that anyone who is interested in criminal defense is welcome to follow her around. Finally, the panelists gave advice to students on how to prepare themselves for work in the criminal defense sector. First, the panelists all agreed that students should take as many criminal law oriented classes as possible. Second, the panelists suggested that students take internships and work in clinics with a criminal defense focus.
Needless to say, the panel was very well received. CPIL and all the students who attended are very appreciative of the time these busy purveyors of justice took to shed light on the important areas of criminal defense work.