While many of our students have successful externship experiences, it’s not often you end up making history.
That’s what happened with Matthew Strubinger this summer when he became the first certified legal intern in the history of Carbon County, Pennsylvania.
Strubinger worked with court appointed conflict counsel for the Carbon County Public Defender's Office.
“Whenever the public defender’s office has a conflict of interest, the court appoints counsel from the legal community to help any indigent defendants who need representation,” Strubinger explained. “A conflict arises most often because there are two indigent codefendants who both need legal help from the public defender’s office.”
He counts himself fortunate to have had this experience, as he was able to undertake many of the same roles as a real conflict attorney. Once a case was appointed to his externship supervisor by the court, he and his supervisor worked together reviewing the affidavit of probable cause and the sentencing guidelines before an initial meeting with the client at the Carbon County Correctional Facility.
“We then attended a preliminary hearing, where my supervisor encouraged me to take the lead in plea negotiations with the district attorney’s office,” Strubinger said. “If we did not come to an agreement, a pre-trial conference was scheduled, and we went to the courthouse for further negotiations with the district attorney’s office. Lastly, if a deal is reached, I attended a guilty plea/sentencing here where I was able to advocate for my client by speaking directly to the judge.
This was my opportunity to present my client’s mitigating circumstances and ensure a fair result on their behalf is reached.”
This summer’s experience taught Strubinger a great deal about the criminal defense field.
“I learned there are many different approaches to effectively advocate for a criminal defendant. Good defense attorneys do not intimidate their opponents by making demands during a negotiation, but rather by presenting their client’s case with assertions grounded in fact, candor, and fairness. Additionally, the role of a defense attorney is more than just making arguments. Client communication is the most important role of a criminal defense attorney. Listening to your client is a great way to build trust and express compassion. Criminal defense work is difficult, but it is a unique opportunity to exercise humility in helping others.”
Strubinger advises students to consider the certified legal internship program in a small to medium sized county. “The faculty at Widener Law Commonwealth is great at guiding students through the process of obtaining their certification, and it offers invaluable experience,” he explained. “Working in this capacity will give you the most realistic taste of what it is like to practice law when you graduate law school. The program also affords students the opportunity to make mistakes and learn from them, because they always have their supervisor by their side. It is the best way to become comfortable in real-life legal settings before embarking on the journey themselves.”
Interview was conducted in Summer 2023.