With the arrival of summer comes the annual onboarding of interns in workplaces across the country. While some internships may just be grabbing coffee and making copies, King County is proud to develop interns and employees for a career in public service.
One notable example is within the Department of Public Defense (DPD). Across the four divisions, DPD has expanded a program to attract third-year law students locally and across the country with the idea that they will stay on as public defenders full time after graduation. Summer internships are full time while a school year externship is part time.
“The beauty is we can invest in interns and lawyers in training,” said Lorinda Youngcourt, Director of Public Defense. “We can hire students at the beginning of their third year of law school, which allows us to be competitive.”
The program is currently run by La Mer Kyle-Griffiths, DPD’s training director. La Mer has been with the County since 2015 and is passionate about growing and developing staff. Her significant experience as a trainer has helped the intern program thrive. Modeled after the not-for-profit model, the program allows interns to receive training and become Rule 9 certified. They also practice through mock trials, and under supervision, co-counsel actual trials and cases. Interns also receive coaching and mentoring from excellent King County public defenders from all four divisions. “Most law schools don’t talk about the people element – that is what this program is designed to do,” says La Mer.
“This gives our interns real experience, the chance to see if public defense is what they want to do and allow them to practice courtroom skills,” adds Lorinda.
Interns are assigned to one of four divisions: the Associated Counsel for the Accused Division (ACAD), the Northwest Defenders Division (NDD), the Society of Counsel Representing Accused Persons Division (SCRAPD) and The Defenders Association Division (TDAD).
Lorinda has been with King County a little over two years, but has close to 29 years of legal experience. In her previous role as Chief Public Defender, she started the first public defense office and internship program in Lawrence County, Indiana. She considers interns an integral part of running a successful office because of the perspective they bring.
“I have seen a lot in my career, including how important it is for interns to bring new eyes and energy to the work,” she said.
From last summer’s program there are currently seven law students who have accepted a position and are committed to working with King County. This summer the program has 24 students participating and partners with law schools to help with the hiring process, receiving applications from many law schools like Notre Dame, NYU, Berkeley and Harvard, Columbia, George Washington University, as well as from local universities like Seattle University and the University of Washington.
“Seattle University’s program is more social justice oriented and that also gives us a high number of diverse students,” said Lorinda. “It’s allowed us to have qualified people lined up instead of running around to hire lawyers off the street.”
“We can train people as trial lawyers and when a position is available call them up and say ‘Hey can you start in two weeks?’”
This quick turnaround in hiring allows for faster onboarding and also for more qualified applicants, bringing in new lawyers well acquainted with DPD’s practices and King County’s priorities. Lorinda describes this process, a “school to courtroom pipeline,” as a valuable way to fairly and equitably represent the community.
“The success of this program shows how the community supports our work so that clients are getting quality representation,” she said. “It’s the most beautiful thing about King County – here local government is so committed to social justice, equity and a quality public defense that it allows us to hire qualified lawyers and be well defensed.”