Exhilarating, thrilling, invigorating. Perhaps three words you would attribute to visiting a theme park. For me, this is how I would describe my Amicus ALJ internship. I was lucky enough to spend just over 3 months Stateside working on death row cases alongside some of the most motivating, inspiring and hardworking lawyers I have ever met.
An Amicus internship was always a huge reason I wanted to complete my Integrated Masters in Law degree (alongside completing the BPTC and, one day, becoming a barrister). After attending a lecture about Amicus with the brilliant Mark George QC at my university, I could not sleep at night knowing that people were being deprived of their lives after being deprived of due process and I was doing nothing to help stop it. If you think the England and Wales criminal justice system is broken - and it only takes reading The Secret Barrister: Stories of the Law and How It’s Broken to understand how horrendous our system is - try being a vulnerable defendant in the USA, a country where it’s not all too uncommon to come across a car with a bumper sticker reading ‘hang ‘em high!’
You won’t become the next Sir Trevor McDonald or, dare I say it, Piers Morgan when you are interning. You are not going to have hard hitting confrontations with inmates, demanding answers. The reality is that a lot of time is spent in the office reading and summarising voluminous documentation. I am not exaggerating when I say my fellow intern and I scanned around 3000+ pages over two days and spent the next few weeks reading, analysing and summarising them. It cannot be underestimated how important this work is; without interns, who does this work, especially in the lead up to post-conviction petition deadlines? The attorneys are already overworked and underpaid and appreciate any and all help.
I was lucky enough to be in an office where I had a lot of client contact. One client rang almost every day to chat and escape the confines of his 23-hour-a-day solitary confinement. I met with seven or eight death row inmates as part of their legal visits. It is a surprisingly relaxed environment and most clients just want to know about you and your life. Hard work was rewarded at my office; I was invited to two training courses whilst I was there. I can hardly believe I can say I have attended a full course on jury selection (which is actually a lot like drafting an NFL team, go figure) and was flown out to California to assist in training capital defence teams that flew in from across the entirety of the USA.
My analytical skills have improved ten-fold as a result of my internship, and I will never underestimate the importance of well-presented mitigation. No matter the crime, everyone has a story that deserves to be told in order to understand the whole picture. If you think you can handle that then an Amicus internship is for you.
Be warned, however, that you must bring your whole heart to the USA because people's lives are on the line. This internship is not merely a CV booster and should not be treated as such; genuine interest and keen attitude will teach you more about yourself than you ever dreamed.