Unlike many of my colleagues in the criminal defense bar, I would have no moral qualms about working for the prosecution. In fact, during the summer after my first year at law school, I interned at the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. I also interviewed with the county prosecutor’s office for an internship the following summer.
It’s the interview with the county prosecutor’s office that I want to talk about it today. Because I think it went very well.
I came to class one Friday to find some of my fellow students in formal interview clothes. “Why the fancy clothes,” I asked.
“The prosecutor’s office is interviewing today,” they replied.
That’s funny, I thought as I stood there in my sweatshirt and jeans. I have an interview with the prosecutor’s office myself. I thought it was next Friday. I checked my schedule and, sure enough, my interview was scheduled for that day.
Now I was faced with a dilemma. The interview was at least three or four hours later. I still had plenty of time to run back home to change into a suit and tie. For whatever reason, I decided not to do this. I was sure that my interviewer would understand how a busy, promising law student such as myself could forget such an important appointment. It would certainly set me apart from the other applicants.
No. My real dilemma was whether or not to do the interview at all. Ultimately I decided I would. Because I so wanted to be a county prosecutor.
So, a couple of hours later, I went over for the interview. The other people sitting there in the reception area, all dressed up in their nice business suits waiting to be called, looked surprised to see me. Maybe even a little bit concerned. I thought I might have nicked myself shaving that morning. Or maybe I was just having a really bad hair day.
My interviewer also seemed surprised to see me. I’m sure she saw the humor in the situation. But she was also professional. She couldn’t let on. I did notice that she seemed a little bit uptight.
We took our seats, and she explained to me the rotations interns went through over the summer and then turned the interview over to me. Why did I want to be a prosecutor?
I think I gave her a very good answer. While I can’t remember the specifics, I know it had something to do with developing trial skills. And so on. When I ran out of things to say, and she looked at me expectantly, I went back and covered some of the same stuff. For emphasis. Just in case she missed any of it the first go round.
Again, my interviewer was very adept at hiding her admiration. Yes, she said finally, just as I was about to cycle back for a third time. That’s fine and good and all, but you could get the same trial experience as a public defender. Why specifically do you want to be a prosecutor?
I thought about this a moment. And frankly, I couldn’t come up with a response. I had already exhausted every possible reason for working as a prosecutor. I had already mentioned, for example, my interest in developing trial skills.
I thought about saying something about justice, about protecting innocent people from crime on the streets. I thought about the theories of incarceration we had discussed in criminal law class: retribution, deterrence, rehabilitation, and so on. I thought about how I didn’t agree with my criminal law professor when he said that deterrence never worked. I know deterrence works. The only reason I don’t speed is because I am afraid of getting a ticket.
Finally, I decided on something more simple: “If you mean, do I want to put people behind bars,” I said. “I guess that’s not really what motivates me.”
I thought she might appreciate my candor.
We looked at each other for a moment across the table. Actually, it may have been longer than a moment because I had time to notice that she was wearing pearl earrings. There was also a little speck of mascara that had fallen onto her cheek. I was just beginning to wonder what city skyline was depicted in the framed photograph over her shoulder when she decided to break the silence.
“I see,” she said. She thought about this for a moment longer. Then: “I see.”
Something must have occurred to her – perhaps she was running behind on her schedule – because at this point I had the sense she wanted to end the interview as quickly as possible.
“Well,” she said. “Thank you. Thank you very much for coming in.”
Again, I think the interview went very well. I am still waiting for the call-back.
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