Rachael Lefurge
ATJ Panel

Last Wednesday, September 27th, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office for Access to Justice came to the UNH Franklin Pierce School of Law to discuss public defender career opportunities and spotlight defender opportunities in small, Tribal, and rural communities. Senior Counsel Nikhil Ramnaney joined local public defense leaders and practitioners to speak to law students and undergraduates about pursuing careers in public defense. Panelists addressed the critical need for public defenders, the future of public defense in their community, the benefits and challenges of working in public defense, and advice for building a sustainable and rewarding career.

Panelists included:

Richard Samdperil, Interim Executive Director, NH Judicial Council

Kevin Ruderman, Recruiting & Hiring Manager, Committee for Public Counsel Services

Kyle Robidas, Director of Professional Development, New Hampshire Public Defender Attorney, Maine Commission on Indigent Legal Services

The discussion was entitled, "Giving Meaning to Gideon: The Rewards and Challenges of Public Defender Work in Northern New England." This title is in recognition of the 60th anniversary of Gideon v. Wainwright, the 1963 U.S. Supreme Court decision which provides a lawyer to people charged with felonies if they are unable to afford representation. Unfortunately, many underserved rural communities still lack access to important services, such as legal help. As a result, impoverished individuals end up spending weeks in jail waiting for a lawyer because there aren’t enough public defenders to assist these communities. Director of the federal Office for Access to Justice, Rachel Rossi, spoke to students at the UNH Franklin Pierce School of Law about her passion for helping these communities.

Panelist Kevin Ruderman of the Committee for Public Counsel Services gave aspiring public defenders some important pieces of advice: find your niche, understand why you want to pursue this career, acknowledge your privileges, and find ways to handle your stress.

The U.S. Department of Justice is organizing panels at law schools nation-wide to address this issue to determine ways to increase the number of public defenders in rural and poor communities and to provide advice to students pursuing a career in this field.