This past summer I worked as a legal intern for the Amicus-St. Louis Short Internship which involved assisting the local legal team in providing pro bono legal representation for cases involving capital punishment and unconstitutional sentencing.
I was intrigued with this opportunity when it was first presented by an Amicus representative at the QMUL campus. I looked at criminal law as being one of the most extreme applications of law, particularly regarding capital punishment, and saw it as an interesting experience to add to my CV. Reflecting back on this short internship, there are many things I experienced, both positive and negative, which I hadn’t expected, or was aware of, going into it.
The first surprise was the focus of the work that we were involved with there. I was one of three summer interns in the office assigned to contribute to an ongoing empirical study regarding the unconstitutionality of the death penalty in Missouri. Along with being primarily a research-based role, there was a lot of ‘downtime’ as there was often a backlog at the courthouse and there wasn’t other work readily assigned in the office in the meantime.
Unlike the other interns, I was fortunate enough to have convinced one of the lawyers to have me assist him with a criminal case involving a juvenile homicide. I gained a lot of insight into criminal law including being responsible for preparing various court documents and statements, interviewing a witness, and even having a chance to talk with the client themselves. I did a lot of legal research and spent a large amount of time digesting/summarizing large amounts of files to facilitate future use by the attorneys, future attorneys, and any specialists brought onto the case. Although emotionally taxing, this was a personally rewarding experience.
As I consider the practicality of the internship, there are a few things I would recommend. I was fortunate enough to know people in St. Louis who put me up for accommodation rent free and loaned me a car rent free as well. My only expense was parking, which usually cost me a minimum £10/day. Over the course of 5-6 weeks, this added up very quickly.
Another element I believe to be quite crucial for the internship is a clear understanding of the geographic location. Death row work is typically based in underprivileged areas, especially in the downtown core. This can be quite the culture shock upon arrival and I believe it is truly something interns need to be prepared for in advance.
All in all, I enjoyed my experience in St. Louis, Missouri, even though it wasn’t what I was expecting. For any future interns, I would simply recommend you bear in mind that the work you are doing is in fact Pro Bono work, and it won't be as glamorous as what TV law dramas portray! I do believe the work that you are involved with makes a significant impact to their cause.