Are you thinking of becoming a lawyer? This Public Defender explains what her work means to her and how she got it. This is a true career path story as told to AllHispanicJobs.com, where you can also find other true work-life stories told by Hispanics and immigrants from an Assistant Manager to an Administrative Assistant and everything in between.
What is your job title? How many years of experience do you have in that field?
Many people routinely ask me about my career. I suppose being an attorney has a certain allure that comes with the way it is portrayed on television.
I’ve been a public defender for about three years now and I absolutely love it. It is by far the most rewarding legal job I could ever imagine working and I am planning on making a career out of it.
Would you describe the things you do on a typical day?
On any given day I’m doing any number of things ranging from court appearances to conducting legal research to meeting with defendants in jailhouse conference rooms.
What’s your ethnicity and gender? How has it hurt or helped you? If you ever experienced discrimination, how have you responded and what response worked best?
Occasionally I’ll feel that a juror may be looking at me somewhat oddly because I am a Hispanic woman, but as a general rule I’ve never felt any sort of discrimination as a result of ethnic heritage.
Do you speak any language other than English? If so, how has it helped you in your job?
My heritage plays an almost daily role in my job. Sadly, a bit of crime is committed by Mexicans in the area that my office is located in. It’s a demographic reality, although a very upsetting one. As a result however, I’m able to communicate directly with defendants in Spanish without having to use an interpreter. I find it streamlines the process and that defendants feel better about their circumstances as a result of that communication.
On a scale of 1 to 10 how would you rate your job satisfaction? What would it take to increase that rating?
On a scale of 1-10 I would rate it a 9.
What did you learn the hard way in this job and how did that happen?
While school taught theory, my job taught me how to practice law. It was truly trial by fire. There were some bumps in the road along the way, and some very embarrassing moments in front of judges and prosecutors, but I am a stronger person and better advocate as a result.
What don’t they teach in school that would’ve been helpful to you?
Law school teaches you surprisingly little when it comes to anything practical.
How did you get started in this line of work? If you could go back and do it differently, what would you change?
What initially got me interested in becoming an attorney is actually the United States constitution. My first introduction to it came in school as I was growing up. As the daughter of Cuban immigrants who came to this country to escape a brutal communist regime, I was taught at home just how important this nation is and how lucky I was to be born and raised here. The constitution, a surprisingly short document for those who have not sat down to read it, is the framework for this great nation and I was just fascinated by it. It was incredible to me; all of our nation’s laws had to conform to this one piece of writing.
On a good day when things are going well, can you give an example of something that really makes you feel good?
A good day for me is knowing I was able to help someone. The best days, of course, are when I win a trial. Knowing I helped an innocent person go free feels great.
When nothing seems to go right, what kind of snafus do you handle and what do you dislike the most?
There are of course downsides to my line of work. It is stressful. Peoples’ freedom, and by extension their lives, are in my hands. That is a heavy burden to bear. Also, seeing all the crime related evidence I do can be depressing at times. Especially evidence connected to violent crimes. It’s hard not to take work home with me, in the sense it is always on my mind.
How stressful is your job? Are you able to maintain a comfortable or healthy work-life balance?
The job is stressful, but another reason I love my job is unlike attorneys in private practice I have a fairly normal schedule. I work 9 to 5, maybe a little longer if I have a trial to prepare for, but I’ve never had the insane hours that associates in large corporate firms have.
What’s a rough salary range for the position you hold? Are you paid enough considering your responsibilities?
My job is not about making as much money as possible or about billable hours. It’s really about the law. The flip side is of course I don’t make as much as some of my friends from law school, but I prefer that work-life balance that I have. Plus, I make between $,50,000 and $60,000, earn a slew of government benefits, and get two weeks of vacation, so I’m not complaining.
What’s the most rewarding moment you’ve experienced in this position? Of all the things you’ve done at work, what are you most proud of?
The reason I love what I do is first and foremost, I guarantee an individual’s rights are protected regardless of what charges they have leveled against them. Everyone deserves to have their rights upheld. That’s why this is such a great country to live in; people are always guaranteed certain rights, such as a right counsel and to a fair trial. There are plenty of nations in this wide world of ours that don’t have such guarantees.
What education and skills do you need to get hired and succeed in this field?
The education required for the job I have is a Doctorate Degree called “Juris Doctor” and passing the bar exam. Law school is a lot of very hard work.
What would you tell a friend considering your line of work?
I would say: if you are thinking about a career in law, go for it. Just make sure you go into it for the right reasons. Make sure you really love the law and are not just attracted to high salaries, because in this economy, law is not what it used to be. School is hard and legal jobs are becoming scarcer and starting salaries are shrinking. You don’t want to come out and find yourself struggling to find a job that you only have a passive interest in.
Are there any common misunderstandings you want to correct about what you do?
A lot of people ask me how I can defend folks who are charged with criminal acts day in and day out. It’s not I believe justice should not be served. No, not at all; in fact it is quite the opposite. If the person really did commit the crime that they are charged with the system will work and they will serve time for their crime. I’ve been doing my job long enough to firmly believe that.
Does this job move your heart? If not, what does?
My career is incredibly rewarding and it does move my heart. I am intellectually challenged, professionally fulfilled, and I get to help people who are often not afforded any other assistance.
If you could write your own ticket, what would you like to be doing in five years?
The same thing I’m doing right now, I wouldn’t change a thing!
Is there anything unique about your situation that readers should know when considering your experiences or accomplishments?
After becoming very interested in government and legislative affairs in high school, I went to college and became a political science major. To be honest, political science has little merit as a subject by itself, and by that I mean that with a mere BA in political science, you’re probably not going to come out of college with too many practical skills. However, it was, and still is, the best course of study out there for anyone who wants to become an attorney since it lays down a solid foundation of knowledge that will later prove useful when pursuing graduate study in law.
After college I went right into law school, attending a major state university’s law school. While I went into my jurisprudential studies thinking that I wanted focus on legislative affairs and work on Capitol Hill as either a lobbyist or legislative aide, my first-year criminal law class instilled in me a deep intellectual curiosity in the criminal justice system and ultimately changed my career goals. After finishing my JD and passing the bar exam and I became an assistant public defender in a major suburban area in a mid-Atlantic state. There is a lot of on the job training.
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