By: Ryan Falk
This summer I had the privilege of working as a legal intern at the Monroe County District Attorney’s Office in Rochester, New York. This office is responsible for prosecuting crimes that occur within Monroe County. My efforts at the office were made possible thanks to a fellowship sponsored by the University at Buffalo School of Law. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic prevented me from working in a full capacity at the office, and I spent much of my time working remotely (with my dog, Riley, by my side). However, I was fortunate enough to be given meaningful assignments and the opportunity to converse with Assistant District Attorneys. I originally planned to serve in just the office’s Major Felonies Bureau, but was given the opportunity to explore the many different aspects of the office.
Much of my work centered around two homicide cases, wherein I was tasked with analyzing and summarizing evidence, as well as identifying potential legal issues. In addition to these matters, I drafted memoranda for attorneys in the Special Victim’s Unit pertaining to sex crimes. While these matters were extremely gruesome and terrible, I took a great sense of pride in knowing that the office and I were dedicating our efforts to seek the truth and to achieve justice for the victims and the community as a whole. While I had very limited access to view court proceedings, I did have the opportunity to attend a few matters in both Supreme and City Court.
I was also fortunate enough to converse with several defense attorneys in the area. I quickly learned how intelligent and passionate both public and private defenders are for their clients, and how respectful and courteous they are with the prosecution and the Court. Although defense counsel’s interests differ significantly from those of the DA’s office, I saw how defense attorneys make it their mission to zealously advocate for their clients, while also maintaining a professional and respectful relationship with prosecutors. I was very impressed with how one public defender had been able to adequately articulate their client’s concerns to the Court on the fly after their client attempted to make an outlandish statement. As a student who has taken the University at Buffalo’s Trial Technique course, I realized that this was a scenario that I was not yet prepared to handle. Thankfully, I was able to witness this defense attorney’s superb oral advocacy skills and think about them as I progress further in my desire to become a trial attorney.
One aspect that drew me to seek a position with the office was the fact that everything that law enforcement and attorneys do over the course of prosecution must be done in accordance and compliance with the Constitution. I quickly learned that while the Court system serves as the adjudicator of criminal matters, it is ultimately the role of the prosecution to ensure that the defendant be given a fair trial and that their constitutional rights are not overlooked or violated. I learned that in addition to ensuring the validity and legitimacy of a conviction, the prosecution’s interest in protecting these rights is greatly swayed by the consequences of a defendant’s conviction. Even a conviction that does not result in a jail or prison sentence is a serious matter that could have a lasting impact on the defendant’s life. Securing that conviction in violation of the defendant’s constitutional rights – regardless of how certain you may be of their guilt – is inherently un-American and a disgrace to the profession.
With these rights and obligations in mind, an additional aspect that drew me to the office was a sense of duty that I owe to my community. I wanted to play a part in helping those whose lives have been – and continue to be – harmed by crime, and to serve those who live here. One thing that I am grateful for is that this job gave me the opportunity to experience different points of view and ways of life that I had not experienced before. In a way, it was similar to my first year of law school; I met people who grew up under different circumstances and have faced adversity in their lives that I have not experienced. It opened my mind and made me realize how truly fortunate I am to be able to pursue a law degree. Now more than ever, I feel that it is important to reach out to different communities and people to understand the realities and difficulties they face, and make an effort to assist them in some form. While the impact of COVID-19 prevented me from taking advantage of this opportunity in the way I planned the first half of the spring semester, I am glad to know that many members of the office are committed to this as well.
I am so thankful for having the opportunity to serve the citizens of Monroe County and to have received the Catalyst Public Service Fellowship funded by the New York Bar Foundation. This award assisted my efforts in serving my community and helped me earn significant experience in the field of litigation.
Name: Ryan Falk, ‘21
Name of Fellowship: Catalyst Public Service Fellowship, New York Bar Foundation
Placement: Monroe County District Attorney’s Office
Location: Rochester, New York
One important lesson that I learned in this placement: “Public administrators must always strive to serve their community with honesty, integrity, and compassion, and to always seek the truth.”