How I Got My Job as a Public Defense Attorney-Parker Douglas, Federal Public Defender (SJQ 2000) and Megan Green, Former Federal Public Defender (KU 1999)
Locally, these offices include the Federal Defenders, Salt Lake Legal Defenders, and Utah County Public Defenders. Each of these offices has SJQ Alumni working there, and they have also taken student interns via the Appellate and Criminal Clinics. The Salt Lake Legal Defenders will also hire students from time to time. Read on for this week’s featured attorneys—Parker Douglas and Megan Green!
Megan Green, Professional Development, S.J. Quinney College of Law, Former Federal Public Defender (KU 1999)
What do you do?
I recently started my position as a Career Counselor here at the S.J. Quinney College of Law, but prior to that I was an Assistant Federal Public Defender working in the Capital Habeas Unit.
Where are you from and why did you go to law school?
I am from Kansas and graduated from the University of Kansas School of Law. However, thanks to my husband, I am now a member of a devoted Utes fan family
What kind of activities did you do in law school?
Both my internship and externship were with prosecutor offices. I volunteered my first summer at the U.S. Attorney’s Office if Kansas City, Missouri, and completed my externship at the local district attorney’s office during the school year. I started law school actually wanting to be a prosecutor (I watched a lot of Law and Order). I also wrote for the Law Review, and clerked for a state district court judge.
How did you first make contact with the Federal Public Defenders Office and how did you get the job?
I saw an online job posting on the uscourts.gov website and applied. I was living in Dallas at the time, clerking for a federal magistrate judge handing all of his non-capital habeas cases and other pro se pleadings, and started getting the itch to do something more challenging. I saw the on-line job posting from the Federal Public Defender Office in Phoenix for its Capital Habeas Unit and saw it as the challenge I was looking for. After three years with the office in Phoenix, a position for the same unit in Salt Lake City opened and I jumped at the chance to move here. After another three years, I decided to step down to make more time for my growing family. (I have a very active 17 month-old and another one coming in October).
Following law school I clerked first for a federal district judge in Wichita, Kansas, and then for Judge Mary Briscoe on the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. I know that those clerkships played a tremendous role in my getting the job with the Federal Public Defender, which, like the U.S. Attorneys Office, likes to hire former federal clerks. However, after working there for several years and playing a role in that office’s hiring decisions, I know that a clerkship is not the only route to a federal public defender position. There are several attorneys who work their way up through the ranks, either at law firms doing criminal work or at state public defender offices. What they look for is a proven commitment to the representation of indigent defendants, and that commitment can be proven by different avenues.
What did your typical day involve for you/your work?
I worked in the Capital Habeas Unit, which represents death row inmates in their federal habeas proceedings. Because of that, I did much less court time than one usually associates with a public defender. My job involved reading and becoming familiar with a very voluminous state court record, getting to know my client through visits and phone calls, and working with a small team (another attorney, a paralegal, and an investigator) to investigate the case and prepare pleadings. There was a lot of in-office time with research and writing, but also out-of-office activities related to the investigation of our clients’ casas. We also got our share of in-court time with hearings and oral arguments.
What were the best parts of your job at the Federal Public Defenders Office?
Working with some of the best legal minds in a collaborative atmosphere, towards a common goal that we all believed in.
What tips/advice do you have for job-seeking S.J. Quinney School of Law students and recent alum?
Find something that you can feel passionate about; it makes the work day so much more meaningful. Also, it’s okay if you don’t know what that is right away and if you change your mind. I started law school thinking I wanted to be a prosecutor. While clerking, I asked for all of the employment cases because I thought that’s what I wanted to do. After working at a law firm for a year in its employment division, I changed my mind again and started practicing federal habeas law, and eventually ended up with a fantastic position practicing capital habeas defense. Things in my life have changed and I’ve switched again to career counseling. Once again, though, I feel passionate about what it is I do—that is, to help students and alum find their best path.
Parker Douglas, Federal Public Defender (SJQ 2000)
What do you do?
I work as an Assistant Federal Defender at the Utah Federal Public Defender Office. The Federal Defender Office represents indigent defendants charged with criminal violations of federal law. The lawyers who work there are appointed individually by the federal court to represent defendants who cannot otherwise afford counsel. We represent clients facing a variety of charges both from their arraignment on indictment through appeal. We also handle all types of federal criminal charges from gun possession and drug distribution charges, to white collar offenses including financial crimes and alleged trade secret violations.
Where are you from and why did you go to law school?
I grew up east of Los Angeles, did my undergrad at Pitzer College and then a Ph.D. in English, which an emphasis on American Studies, at University of California. I went to law school after teaching in order to have the ability to chose where to live, because I found the study of law interesting and because I believed practicing law would allow me to earn a living while helping those in need. I applied only to S.J. Quinney because I wanted to live and practice in Utah.
What kinds of activities did you do in law school?
I participated in moot court and law review, and was Editor-in-Chief of the law review my 3L year. I also served as a mentor in the ASP program and as a writing mentor. Both of these activities were rewarding because I enjoy teaching and I enjoyed the enthusiasm that students in those programs generally had. I also served as a research assistant to two professors researching historical issues involving constitutional law, which allowed me to continue intellectual interests I had as a graduate student. During the summers, I clerked at a local law firm, where I learned the nuts and bolts of practice.
How did you make contact with your employer and how did you get this job?
I got the job through a roundabout way. I had been interested in criminal law since law school, and had considered prosecuting though my heart has always been with the defense. I was fortunate to have good mentors. I worked at a local law firm after graduation, but then clerked for two different federal judges, Judge Campbell at the District Court for the District of Utah and Judge McConnell, then on the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. After clerking for Judge McConnell, I worked in Washington D.C. for two years in an appellate/Supreme Court section of a global law firm, though I continued to commute to and from Utah at that time. About a third of my work at that law firm was in white collar defense. I then worked with a small firm for a couple of years, focusing largely on my own cases that mostly involved constitutional litigation, before I came to work at the Defenders. I made contact with the Defenders because I had worked some criminal cases, and knew the management in the office. An opening came up and I applied, and I believe that they found me suitable because I had gotten to know many of the practitioners when I worked in federal court and practiced with them. I would recommend internships/clerkships as a way to get to know and observe practitioners. For me, it was a valuable experience because I was able to discuss with colleagues types of argument and styles that seemed to work and be persuasive, something that young lawyers often aren’t able to see frequently.
What does a typical day for you involve?
My days can vary from trying to figure out the best placement for an addicted and convicted client who wants to put his or her life back together, to putting together a complex appeal, to focusing on facts to demonstrate actual innocence for some clients who should not have been indicted. In any case, they involve people who need help, almost always when the odds are against them. My work also involves, because of this, an aspect of social work and counseling, both to clients and their families, as they face the direct and collateral effects of indictment, conviction, and sentencing.
Best (and worst) parts of the job?
The best parts of the job are the intellectual challenges it brings and the satisfaction of helping people in real need (even if they don’t always appreciate the help). The criminal justice system, in my opinion, is over-federalized and the emphasis on high incarceration rates and sentences does little to address public safety. That said, because the sentencing guidelines are no longer mandatory, defense lawyers are invited (if not literally) to be creative in suggesting sentences that make sense to address recidivism and to do so in a way that is not as costly as traditional incarceration. Of course, assisting those who are actually innocent is rewarding, but so is helping those who have committed offenses as they seek to better themselves and become productive members of the community. One of the best parts of the job, which I never anticipated, has also been helping family members of the accused, and seeing people go through the system and put themselves and their families back in balance.
The worst part, similarly, is seeing clients again who have failed to do so. It is also difficult to see those who work in the system–prosecutors and defense lawyers, judges and court employees–lose (or appear to lose) hope that the convicted can change their lives for the better.
What tips/advice do you have for jobseeking S.J. Quinney students?
Do anything you can to work with experienced lawyers you and others respect. Gain as much hands on experience as you can, and participate in as many things as you can to get to know practitioners in the areas of interest to you. The only way to be a good practitioner is to practice, and the best way to practice is to learn from good practitioners. That’s the best advice I can give and it’s what I still do to become a better lawyer.