By: Nicholas Schmitt ‘24
This Summer I interned with the Cayuga County District Attorney’s Office in Auburn, New York. I had a terrific experience and could not have hoped for a better introduction to the area of public interest law. My internship was only made possible by the Honorable Dennis C. Vacco ’78 Summer Fellowship and I am extremely grateful to be selected and allowed to gain such valuable experience as I did from my position.
I decided early on in my 1L year at the University at Buffalo School of Law that I wanted my first legal internship experience to be spent in the field of public interest law. There is something undeniably noble and fulfilling about rendering pro bono services with no more intention than to help others in your community, whoever they may be, and wherever that community can be found. I was not immediately sure which aspect of public interest law I would want to pursue, but I did know that I wanted it to be in some area of criminal law, be it for a public defender’s office or a district attorney’s office.
It was not long before I had firmly settled on interning for a district attorney’s office. The aspect of prosecutorial work greatly intrigued me, and working for a district attorney’s office would allow me to serve the county I grew up in. Cayuga County has an Assigned Counsel Program for public defense, so there is no free-standing public defender’s office where I could volunteer. I wanted to serve my home community, so working for the district attorney was the best way to get that experience and accomplish that goal. I was lucky enough to be offered a chance to intern there, and I could not be more grateful.
The office experience was exactly what I was looking for, and the workload to begin was light enough for me to gradually get acclimated to what was specifically expected of me. In addition to drafting briefs and writing motions, the experience I found most helpful was working with dedicated prosecutors who are striving to keep their community safe.
Attending criminal court proceedings was especially enlightening. A significant component of the in-court experience was sitting in on all aspects of the trial process. I distinctly recall one trial in which a just conviction firmly rested on the ability to prove the defendant had a knife on him while he was committing a robbery. The surveillance footage was unfortunately inconclusive to this end, and it was up to the District Attorney to render a masterful legal argument to the jury. By emphasizing the remaining facts at hand and submitting logical and necessary objections on numerous occasions against opposing counsel, the jury was moved to produce a proper verdict.
In conclusion, my summer at the DA’s office is one which I will recall fondly and appreciate, whether or not I decide to work in criminal law after I graduate. I would recommend public interest work, and specifically work at a district attorney’s office, to any law student. I would even recommend such work to students disinterested in criminal law because it is truly fulfilling and instructive. I believe that no matter what preconceptions they may hold when approaching criminal prosecution, they are bound to recognize the immense value of the experience. I am deeply grateful to Dennis Vacco and to the donors of the Summer Public Interest Funding & Fellowship Program for providing me the opportunity.
Name: Nicholas Schmitt ‘24
Name of Fellowship: Honorable Dennis C. Vacco ’78 Summer Fellowship
Placement: Cayuga County District Attorney’s Office
Location: Auburn, NY
One important lesson I have learned from this fellowship: “Always be proactive when starting a new job or position in the legal field. Do not passively wait around for work to come your way. Take the initiative and seek out work from any source you can. Not only does it reflect greatly upon your character, but it ensures you get the most you possibly can out of the position.”