Summer Job Spotlight: Emily Curran, 2L, Capital Habeas Unit, Federal Public Defender in Missouri

August 14, 2020

Emily Curran, 2L, is a legal intern at the Capital Habeas Unit (CHU), Federal Public Defender, for the Western District of Missouri. Based in Kansas City, the CHU is responsible for providing federal capital habeas representation in cases throughout the state. Missouri’s last execution was in May, after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a federal court’s stay.

How did you connect with this summer opportunity?
I found this internship on Symplicity in mid-May and was immediately drawn to it for the opportunity to work on capital cases. As a remote position, it allowed me to work for the Capital Habeas Unit office in Kansas City, Missouri without having to relocate during these stressful times.

Please describe a “typical” day on the job.
I was assigned to one death row client’s case, so I typically check in with my supervising attorney daily about the case via Zoom or email. I might spend part of the day reading transcripts, another working on my petition for certiorari to SCOTUS, and another speaking to our client over the phone.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted your summer experience?
The pandemic made finding a summer internship much more difficult, but I am extremely grateful to have found this experience in the end. I work remotely with most tasks being similar to the Capital Habeas Unit’s “normal” summer intern program except that I cannot visit our client in prison or tag along to interviews with witnesses as I normally would.

How so far has your summer experience compared with your expectations?
I did not expect to feel so connected and supported by my coworkers through a remote experience. The attorneys, paralegals, and investigators working in this Capital Habeas Unit are incredibly compassionate and driven. I have appreciated how much they welcome new ideas from interns in the course of our work.

How does your experience connect with what you currently envision doing with your law degree? (And if it doesn’t directly connect, what do you hope to get out of the experience?)
Going into law school, I did not picture myself working in criminal law—I always thought that it would be too stressful and morally challenging. This internship has opened my eyes to just how necessary and fulfilling public defense work can be despite its demands.

What advice would you offer another law student thinking about working in a similar position next summer?
Go for it! Even if you don’t think you want to pursue criminal law, you will learn so much about trial practice and appellate procedure. This work also brings up important questions of equity and morality, especially considering the effects of class and race on vulnerable members of our society.

These are stressful times. What are you doing for wellness to de-stress?
I spend a lot of time talking to friends and family over the phone or video chat. I also adopted a kitten earlier this summer, named Ruth after Ruth Bader Ginsburg, as a companion to my ornery cat, Clarence. Clarence wasn’t intended to be named after Clarence Thomas, but I like to picture the two of them as sparring justices!

How are you spending your free time this summer?
I have been taking walks around Minneapolis’ beautiful lakes, catching up on “fun” reading (I almost forgot what it was), and perfecting the art of the social-distance picnic.

Anything else you’d like to share about your experience or about this summer?
My best advice when it comes to finding a job in the midst of the pandemic is to simply keep trying. I was really discouraged when the spring semester ended and I had not yet found a summer internship, but I am so glad that I kept sending out applications and finally landed a position with this wonderful office.

Emily Curran, 2L
Emily Curran, 2L

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