All photos courtesy Kathryn Comboy.
In 1990, the television series Law and Order started broadcasting. At that time, your average law student was still learning to walk. For third-year law student Kathryn Comboy, an externship in the Domestic Violence Unit at New York County Defender Services in New York City has meant not only getting dramatic on-the-ground training in legal work while still in school, it has also been an opportunity to live, work, and be immersed in the Law and Order style drama of New York City.
New York County Defender Services is a not-for-profit law firm that has defended roughly 250,000 individuals charged with misdemeanors and felonies in Manhattan since being founded. Comboy recently took a few minutes out of dodging Law &Order film crews and trial prep to share her experiences as an extern.
What excites you most about your externship?
It doesn’t get much more exciting, challenging, and rewarding than working in the heart of New York City and appearing in court on a daily basis to represent clients facing misdemeanor and felony charges.
Working for a not-for-profit law firm is really what excites me and motivates me to work so hard. I’m grateful to have an education that allows me to help people and I enjoy coming to work everyday, knowing that I can make a difference in a client’s life by advocating on behalf of him/her in the courtroom.
What does your average day look like?
When my supervising attorney and I are not in trial, a typical day includes appearing on behalf of our clients in the Supreme Court, Domestic Violence Part. In court, my supervising attorney and I advocate on behalf of clients who are charged with domestic violence crimes and who have a child in common with the complaining witness. This means that a single client often requires representation for criminal domestic violence charges, as well as for custody, visitation, and child support hearings.
After leaving court for the day, I spend my time writing motions to dismiss, omnibus motions, subpoenas, motions for discovery, custody and visitation petitions, interviewing clients and witnesses, speaking with Assistant District Attorneys, and investigating the charges against our clients. One recent investigation required me to work with Homeland Security and The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children in order to locate the whereabouts of a minor child.
Have you gotten trial experience?
I have second-chaired both an eight-day domestic violence jury trial, as well as a three-day domestic violence bench trial. When my supervising attorney and I are on trial, our days consist of pre-trial preparation, strategizing, writing opening and closing arguments and cross-examination questions, prepping our client for direct examination, and meticulously going through the large amount of discovery that the Assistant District Attorney provides us with on the day of the trial.
Do you think the externship has helped your legal education?
Participating in a full-time externship in New York City during my last semester of law school has been a once in a lifetime opportunity that I believe has prepared me to transition into the role of an attorney more seamlessly. This legal experience has been invaluable and essential for my training to become an attorney. Sharing the same office with my supervising attorney and working together five, sometimes six, days per week has allowed me to immerse myself in all of the duties of an attorney. Working at a law firm full-time during my last semester of law school allowed me to utilize the skills and knowledge that I had acquired throughout law school and past internships, and get a head start on my career as an attorney. Because of my externship, I will graduate with courtroom experience and practical legal knowledge that I could not have gained otherwise.
As a result of my externship, I have faced greater challenges, learned how to work well under a level of pressure that I had not yet experienced, become confident in my legal knowledge when speaking with clients and adversaries, and honed my ability to be quite assertive and tough when necessary.