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Monday, October 25, 2010

Spotlight on Post-Graduate Fellowships

The following is a blog post originally posted in February 2010. 
For many law students looking for public interest work after graduation a fellowship can be the best way to gain an entry-level position with a nonprofit. While many public defender offices and legal services agencies hire new attorneys each year, many other public interest organizations do not. Fellowships typically last for one or two years and may not lead to permanent positions within the organization, however they provide new attorneys excellent training and exposure to a particular field which will make them better qualified for other positions within the public interest arena.

In general, fellowships fall into two categories: organization-based or project-based. An organization-based fellowship is sponsored by the organization for which the fellow is working. A project-based fellowship is sponsored by an outside organization and allows the fellow to work within a host organization on a specific project within a particular area of law or serving a particular community. PSLawNet provides an informative overview of public interest fellowships and is also the best resource for finding positions and sponsoring organizations.

For further information on applying for a post-graduate fellowship attend the CSO/PILA program Fellowship Application Tips, Wednesday, October 27th, 5:00pm - 6:00pm in the Cherry Room.

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Monday, October 4, 2010

5 Questions for a Practitioner: Richard J. Sweeney '00, Sullivan and Sweeney LLP

Richard J. Sweeney is a partner at the firm of Sullivan and Sweeney in Quincy, MA and is currently the Secretary of the Norfolk Bar Association. He is a retired Boston Police sergeant and former instructor at police academies statewide. His practice is primarily handling criminal defense matters in District, Superior and Federal Court. He began as a law clerk at his present firm while a second year law student at New England Law and rose to full partner in 2006. In addition to his other cases he has sat as second chair in several homicide cases with his partner and has successfully obtained several six figure settlements in personal injury cases for his clients.  He is a 2000 graduate of New England Law | Boston.

How did you get started in this particular field?
After retiring from the Boston Police Department I wanted to stay active in the legal field and thought that being an attorney would interest me and allow me to assist others. Deciding on criminal defense was an easy choice as I was able to use the knowledge and experience gained from my years as a police officer and turn it into a strength as a defense attorney. It was one of my better decisions in my life.

 What is a typical day like for a criminal defense attorney?
An active criminal defense attorney begins their day in court with hearings on motions, pre-trial conferences and/or trials. A great deal of time is also spent explaining to your client(s) what is happening in their case. Afternoons are filled with client meetings, research, and writing motions and memos for upcoming cases. It is important to keep up with the latest cases that affect your clients. A few evenings each month are dedicated to bar associations and other related activities to network and stay involved in the legal community.

Were there any particular law school experience(s) that especially prepared you for practicing criminal law?
Criminal law in particular calls for an expertise in evidence. Cases live and die on whether a piece of evidence is admissible. A course in clinical evidence is a must to gain expertise in everyday practical evidentiary issues. I also highly suggest any clinic or class that gets you on your feet and involved defending your arguments. Every new attorney needs to learn the proper foundation questions needed in court for evidence or testimony as well as the proper objections and motions needed to exclude evidence in all cases. The mediation course at New England Law also taught me some valuable lessons and the skills necessary to negotiate plea bargains and other issues. Finally, I highly suggest that you clerk for a criminal defense attorney or take a clinical class that gives you courtroom experience. I participated in the family law clinic supervised by Professor Oro that required I go to court on a regular basis and her suggestions and critiques were most helpful to me. As I transitioned from a student to a practicing attorney, Professor Oro was always available to assist me with any questions that I had. One of the best benefits of a New England Law education is that you can still reach out to the professors after graduation. They are a great resource that I continue to utilize to this day.

Are there certain personality traits candidates should have in order to do well in this field?

A desire to compete at a high level, an outgoing personality and an honest compassion for the people involved in each case.You have to be self-confident and willing to fight for your clients and ensure that their rights are protected so that they get the best possible defense. The most successful criminal defense attorneys I know are highly competitive and their backgroundS reflect that. There is also a camaraderie in this area of the law that, I believe, is unparalleled and makes it a rewarding practice.

What advice do you have for law students interested in pursuing a similar career path?
Law school alone does not prepare you for the world of practicing law in a courtroom. There are numerous forms, rules and procedures (and personalities) that will be foreign to you and the lack of real life experience can be overwhelming at times. Working in a district attorney's office as a SJC Rule 3:03 student attorney or as a law clerk with a practicing attorney is absolutely invaluable in making yourself marketable. I started in my firm as a law clerk after my second year in school. I became active in the Quincy and Norfolk Bar Associations almost immediately after passing the bar. I also stayed in touch with most of my professors after I graduated. Hard work and valuable connections made during my first five to seven years out of school helped me rise to partner and become Secretary of the Norfolk Bar Association. Networking is an absolute essential piece of your law school experience and you should use these years wisely by getting to know as many people in the field as possible. Like other firms, we have hired our associates from the ranks of our law clerks. Most jobs in small firms come from recommendations from friends and fellow attorneys. You can work yourself into a job in just a short time as an intern or a law clerk at a reputable firm.

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