Editor’s Note: Each summer Penn Law students hone their skills through a wide array of private and public sector internships across the country and around the world. Generous financial support and fellowships for international and public interest work enable students to pursue diverse assignments in the United States and abroad. This post from Nina Kalandadze L’20 is one in a series of firsthand accounts detailing how students’ summer employment opportunities are preparing them for their legal careers.
Kalandadze is from Moscow, Russia. She attended Temple University.
Throngs of attorneys, defendants, court and police officers, administrative workers, legal interns, and witnesses poured into an elevator at the Criminal Justice Center, located cattycorner to City Hall. Prosecutors and defense attorneys wielding boxes bursting with files hurried to get to court on time. The criminal justice system was gearing up for the day. Lost in the sea of people, I was on my way to observe proceedings in courtroom 1001, a major crimes courtroom.
Prior to my summer internship with the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, I had never seen the inside of a courtroom, let alone sat in on a criminal trial. During my time with the DA’s office thus far, I have observed multiple trials, seen opening and closing arguments, witnessed mistrials, sentencing and bail hearings, and watched jury selection.
As a first-year intern at the DA’s office, I am assigned to a seasoned Assistant District Attorney. Every morning, my supervising attorney and I meet at the courthouse and spend at least the first half of our day in the court room. If there is a major trial, I assist by keeping track of the order of witnesses, taking notes, and providing moral support. (Believe it or not, even experienced trial lawyers still get nervous!) More importantly, I observe a number of different lawyers and, thus, learn from their different styles. Some closing arguments, for example, are theatrical and grandiose (some even use props!). Others are intimate and make the jury feel like they are being let in on a secret.
The most rewarding part of my summer experience has been seeing my work used in the courtroom. On numerous occasions, I have been asked to quickly research an issue, only to see it used in the courtroom the very next day! Additionally, I have been asked to listen to prison tapes, put together trial materials, prepare discovery and give an opinion on fair plea agreements. In short, interning at the DA’s office exposed me to practical aspects of the prosecutor’s role in the criminal justice system and animated my classroom experience.
In fact, I often rely on the knowledge and skills I obtained from my first-year classes. What I learned in the Legal Practice Skills (LPS), for example, not only helped me develop high-quality work product, but also gave me confidence in my work. Criminal and Constitutional Law classes help me analyze legal issues and develop legal arguments.
In short, putting what I learned in the classroom to practice at the District Attorney’s Office has been a rewarding experience. As someone who worked prior to attending law school, I found the lack of hands on experience frustrating. This summer, I get to actually practice law every day!
– Nina Kalandadze