Interning at the American Bar Association’s Death Penalty Representation Project in Washington, D.C., following her first year at Penn State Dickinson's School of Law, Susanna Bagdasarova had the opportunity to put what she learned in professor Thomas Place's criminal procedure class into action.
Working to find legal representation for death row inmates in post-conviction proceedings, the project gets referrals from public defenders’ offices, an inmate’s family members or friends or the inmates themselves from every state in the U.S. After receiving a request that the project lawyers feel they can help with, a case file summary is compiled. That’s where Bagdasarova comes in.
“It’s a little different from work in a firm. We go through all their records, outline their background, humanize them a little bit and outline the legal issues to argue on appeal in the post-conviction process. The case file summary gives the volunteer lawyers an overview of the types of problems that they will come across and the kinds of cases that they will need to look at should they decide to take the case."
Working at the project has shown Bagdasarova the difference between learning the rules of criminal procedure and putting them into practice. “It’s been really interesting to see criminal procedure in practice. I took Criminal Procedure with professor (Thomas) Place last semester, but actually dealing with capital punishment post-conviction litigation is entirely different and so hyper-technical. Seeing the difference between academia and practice has been very enlightening.”
Bagdasarova said that her legal research and writing class more than adequately prepared her for the assignments. “Professors (Mary) Polacheck and (Camille) Marion are fantastic. They prepared me for the hardest, most thorough types of legal writing assignments. The effort that they required us to put into our class assignments during the semester paid off this summer and made the work seem a lot easier.”
When Bagdasarova started law school, her plan was to pursue international humanitarian law. During her first year of study, she developed an interest in corporate law and international trade law and hopes to land a job in one of those fields next summer. “I still want to do humanitarian work. Working for the project has been great because it has helped me realize that I can still do humanitarian legal rights work without specializing in that field full time. There are a lot of attorneys at big firms who still find the time to do this work for the project, so it’s definitely opened my eyes to ways of balancing my interests.”
For more on students' summer work, click here.