Richmond Law students J.P. Brown, Albert Flores, Kelly Gibson, and Dan O’Brien have one thing in common: They came to law school firm in the knowledge that they wanted to practice criminal law. And they’re not alone in their passion: Forty-eight Richmond Law students are pursuing criminal law internships this summer. The stories of these four students provide a behind-the-scenes look at that internship experience.

Kelly Gibson, L’16
“I came to law school to be a prosecutor,” said Kelly Gibson. After majoring in women’s studies and interning at the Charlottesville Office of the Public Defender during her undergraduate years at the University of Virginia, Gibson was determined to “be the voice of victims in those cases that are too often ignored or pushed aside,” particularly when it came to issues of sexual assault and domestic violence.

That desire to become a prosecutor has been solidified during her studies at Richmond Law. Gibson has taken a range of criminal law classes, including evidence and criminal procedure with Associate Dean Corinna Lain, who formerly served in the Commonwealth Attorney’s Office for Henrico County. “What she did was basically what I want to do,” said Gibson.

After a 2014 internship with the Capital Defender’s Office in Richmond, she decided to balance her defense experience with something on the prosecutorial side. In her summer position at the Commonwealth Attorney’s Office of Hanover County, Gibson has helped prepare cases, negotiated plea agreements, and worked with witnesses.

“My internship has been absolutely amazing,” said Gibson. “What has surprised me the most … is how comfortable I've become in the courtroom and interacting with attorneys and the judge” – and the experience has “cemented my desire to be a trial attorney.”

J.P. Brown, L’16
After deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq as a Marine intelligence officer, J.P. Brown was stationed at the Pentagon. Law school – and federal prosecution in particular – seemed like a natural extension. “Based upon my prior federal service, it seemed like a good fit,” said Brown. Plus, “It was very reminiscent of what I used to do when I was briefing at the Pentagon.” A spring semester clinical placement with the Hon. Roderick Young helped seal the deal for Brown. Not only did he get a “behind the curtain” look at the courtroom, but he also learned about Young’s prior experience as a federal prosecutor.

This summer, Brown interned with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Norfolk. Thanks to a Third-Year Practice Certificate, he was able to appear before the court under the supervision of a practicing attorney. “There are so many variables,” said Brown. “It’s a challenge. I like that aspect of it.”

In his role at the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Brown has worked with investigators to see how they build a case, and has handled initial appearances, preliminary hearings, and sentencings. His work at Richmond Law is being put to good use, from writing skills to lessons learned in Professor John Douglass’ criminal procedure class. His involvement on the Moot Court Board has also come in handy – and influenced the decision to pursue a career in litigation. “I liked being on my feet,” said Brown.

Dan O’Brien, L’16
“I was always interested in criminal law, sort of vaguely in the back of my head,” said Dan O’Brien. “Once I got to school, [my courses] definitely confirmed it.” In criminal law and procedure classes with Professor Ron Bacigal, for example, practitioners would visit to talk about their careers as defense attorneys or prosecutors, explaining their daily work. “I found it very compelling,” said O’Brien.

So he started reaching out to prosecutors' offices, looking for internships in the criminal law field. This summer, he’s served as an intern in the Public Defender’s Office in Winchester. “It’s been a blast,” said O’Brien. “They kind of throw you right in there.”  

His work includes interviewing clients, performing discovery, and writing motions to suppress – and that variety has been the best part. For O’Brien, “the idea of being able to just get my feet wet and take on as many cases as possible” is attractive, he explained. “I think it’s just interesting learning the machinations of the court house.”

Albert Flores, L’16
During his 10 years of active duty as a Major in the Marine Corps Reserves, Albert Flores’ job was “to hunt bad guys.” Becoming a prosecutor seemed like a natural next step. “I tailored my curriculum to a very specific criminal focus,” explained Flores. But it was the Wrongful Convictions Clinic “that changed my life,” he said. “By taking the clinic, I was able to see mistakes that happened in the criminal justice system, and how they happened.” He decided to put that revelation to good use.

This summer, Flores is the only intern at the Richmond City Commonwealth's Attorney Office – and that means he spends every day in court, where he’s assigned anywhere from five to eight misdemeanor cases scheduled for trial. He’ll speak with the victims, the witnesses, and the law enforcement officers before trying to negotiate a plea bargain with the defense attorneys. If the plea bargain is contested, then it’s his job to try the case. He’s also had the opportunity to argue bond motions made by defense attorneys and conduct preliminary hearings for felony charges.

Needless to say, it’s made for a busy summer for the rising 3L student, who is also the new father of two-month-old Miriam, and spends a week at a time in North Carolina for the Marine Corps Special Operations Command. But it’s been worth the effort, explained Flores: “I feel great about the fact that every single day in my internship, I’m putting in practice what I knew I wanted to do for the last four years.”

Photo: Albert Flores stands in front of the John Marshall Courthouse, where he works as an intern in the Richmond City Commonwealth's Attorney Office.