Federal Public Defender for the Northern District of Texas
The Office of the Federal Public Defender for the Northern District of Texas provides indigent clients with high quality, client-centered legal representation at all stages of litigation for offenses ranging from petty misdemeanors to capital murder. FPD attorneys regularly litigate in federal district court and the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. Our office has also successfully represented multiple clients before the United States Supreme Court. The FPD Northern District of Texas has offices in Dallas, Fort Worth, Lubbock, and Amarillo. We offer both summer and semester internships at each of the four offices.
Traditional Unit: The traditional unit comprises trial and appellate attorneys, investigators, paralegals, and legal assistants in each of the four offices. Each office offers unique opportunities to learn about federal defense, from bank robbery and gun charges in Dallas/Fort Worth to major highway drug interdiction cases in Lubbock and Amarillo. The Assistant Federal Public Defenders in the trial unit handle caseloads consisting of misdemeanors, felonies, and probation revocations. AFPDs in the appellate unit represent clients before the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals and the United States Supreme Court, as well as handling post-conviction and compassionate release cases.
Capital Habeas Unit: The Capital Habeas Unit (CHU) is located in the Dallas office. The CHU represents clients on death row in Texas. Through an interdisciplinary team approach, the CHU provides clients with the highest level of legal representation with respect to their convictions and death sentences. The attorneys, investigators, and paralegals in the CHU identify constitutional violations and new evidence to present in federal court. CHU attorneys regularly litigate in federal district court, the Fifth Circuit, and the United States Supreme Court.
Example Intern Projects
Capital Habeas Unit
The Internship Experience
Andrea Aldana- Trial Attorney, Fort Worth Office
I was a Summer Intern during the summer before my 3rd year of law school. In that time, I was able to work closely with other attorneys on substantive assignments – I truly contributed to case analysis, strategy development, and fact revision. The interns shadowed the duty attorneys, allowing us the opportunity to directly interact with clients and learn the interpersonal approaches of each attorney. I also accompanied an attorney to a jail visit; an eye-opening experience that made me realize that being a federal public defender was the profession for me.
Rachel Taft- Trial Attorney, Fort Worth Office
During my 1L summer, I worked primarily in state criminal courts and knew I wanted to continue in that direction. Criminal law had a way of holding my attention a lot longer than the rule against perpetuities did. For my 2L summer, I applied for an externship with the Federal Public Defender in Fort Worth and within a few weeks knew that was where I wanted to be. Through the internship program, I had the opportunity to work on real issues, meet with real clients, and see that my work made a real difference in the outcome of cases. I was challenged by the assignments and always felt like my work was appreciated. The attorneys I worked alongside were true advocates for their clients and showed a level of commitment to their clients that I knew I wanted to emulate in my practice. My summer interning with the FPD gave my career direction and I couldn’t be happier to be a part of the office.
Catalina Hotung- Trial Attorney, Dallas Office
I externed full time in the fall of 2019 and found the experience pivotal in my career path. I came from an immigration law background and had an interest in learning about the dynamic between criminal and immigration law. The externship provided insight into that dynamic but also revealed the complexity of federal criminal law, which I found fascinating.
As the only extern, I worked closely with a group of attorneys who loved what they did and enjoyed having interns around. I worked on issues concerning sentencing enhancements, motions to suppress, sentencing in terrorism-related cases, criminal denaturalization, and I even took on a project from the capital habeas unit. Put into practice on such challenging and interesting topics, my research and writing skills blossomed. However, I did not spend all my time in front of a computer. I also spent a considerable amount of time in court watching everything from how new arrests are handled to sentencing hearings. I accompanied the attorneys on jail visits and even met with clients on death row. Additionally, in the middle of my externship, I had the rare opportunity to help conduct over 20 client intakes in Spanish with undocumented folks who were caught during an immigration raid. Quite honestly, I learned more in that one semester as an extern than I had in a semester of law school and I credit my experience as the reason I ultimately changed my focus to federal criminal law and became an AFPD myself.
Adam Nicholson- Appellate Attorney, Dallas Office
Having spent too much time watching Law & Order reruns, I went to law school intending to work as a prosecutor in my local DA’s office. But, believing that I would be a better-qualified prosecutor if I spent some time working for the defense, I applied for and took an internship with the FPD’s office during the summer between my first and second year of law school.
In contrast with the internship experiences I was hearing about from many of my classmates, my internship with the FPD presented constant opportunities to do meaningful and challenging work. In fact, on the first day of my internship, the chief of the Fort Worth office invited me to research and write a memorandum to address sentencing disparities in methamphetamine cases. That project produced a document the FPD still uses (in an updated form) in successful arguments for sentences below those recommended by the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. Personally, the project served as the foundation for the note I wrote for my law review.
Beyond that methamphetamine memorandum, that internship presented a host of other opportunities to learn about and participate in the FPD’s work. In addition to several research and writing assignments, that internship presented an opportunity to observe oral arguments at the Fifth Circuit—arguments that included an idea I suggested the night before—and to provide support for attorneys through a notoriously contentious trial.
In the process, I became very attracted to the challenges of federal criminal defense. That internship helped me know that I wanted to work in the FPD office. So a few years later—with two more internships with this office and graduation sandwiched in that time—I was invited to join what I believe is the best criminal defense firm in the country.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Why should I intern with the FPD?
Both the Traditional Unit and the Capital Habeas Unit provide extensive training on the complexities of the federal system and the realities of defense work. Both programs begin with a formal fundamentals training taught by multiple experienced attorneys and staff in the office. We also provide ongoing training and feedback throughout the internship program. We treat our interns as part of the team and include them in trial strategy meetings, client visits, expert consultations, and investigations. Our interns do real, substantive legal work and we strive to ensure all interns leave the program with a strong writing sample. All interns have regular meetings with intern supervisors to receive feedback and one-on-one instruction. The office also arranges for summer interns to travel to New Orleans to observe our appellate attorneys present oral argument at the Fifth Circuit.
- What is the office environment like?
Our office prizes its collegial atmosphere and open-door environment. Because no single person can do this work alone, you will work with experienced lawyers, mitigation specialists, investigators, paralegals, and legal assistants. We encourage interns to ask questions, get involved in cases, and take advantage of as many opportunities as possible to learn about public defense.
- Is this a paid internship?
Internships are unpaid at this time. However, the FPD will work with interns to obtain academic credit, funding through their law schools, or funding from other sources.
- What do you look for when selecting interns?
The Federal Public Defender’s Office is committed to improving diversity in the legal profession. Racial bias and disparity in sentencing are clear issues in the criminal legal system. We represent clients from a range of backgrounds, including many from other countries. It is critical to our clients’ representation that the office be comprised of individuals from diverse cultures and backgrounds. The nature of our work leads us to invest in recruiting colleagues who demonstrate experience with, knowledge of, and sensitivity to the needs of culturally diverse and oppressed populations.
Traditional Unit: The trial and appellate sections select both rising 2L and 3L students for all four offices. We seek interns with a demonstrated interest in criminal defense, strong research and writing skills, and a commitment to public service. We prefer, but do not require, that interns have already taken courses in criminal law and procedure, evidence, and constitutional law. Fluency in Spanish and clinic experience is a plus.
Capital Habeas Unit: The CHU selects rising 3L students. We seek candidates with an interest in death penalty defense, strong research and writing skills, and a commitment to working with marginalized communities and with clients from a range of backgrounds. Spanish fluency is a plus.
- When does the internship program begin?
Traditional Unit: The summer program begins on the Monday before Memorial Day. We require a minimum commitment of six weeks but interns are welcome to stay for the full summer. Semester externship dates are determined on a case-by-case basis. Traditional Unit internships are in-person.
Capital Habeas Unit: The summer program begins in early June and requires a minimum commitment of eight weeks. Semester externship dates are determined on a case-by-case basis. CHU internships are remote.
- When should I apply?
We accept applications for both units on a rolling basis. Summer intern classes are normally finalized between September and late February. Semester extern applications are accepted at any time.
- How do I apply?
Traditional Unit: Please complete the Internship Application Form on our website. Once you have submitted the form, email your cover letter, resume, unofficial transcript, and a short writing sample (5-10 pages) in a single .pdf document to TXN_Internships@fd.org. Write “Traditional Unit Summer/Semester Internship” in the subject line. In your cover letter, please indicate which office you are applying to (Dallas, Fort Worth, Lubbock, Amarillo) and if you are interested in the trial section, appellate section, or both.
Capital Habeas Unit: Please complete the Internship Application Form on our website. Once you have submitted the form, email your cover letter, resume, unofficial transcript, and a short writing sample (5-10 pages) in a single .pdf document to TXN_Internships@fd.org. Write “CHU Summer/Semester Internship” in the subject line.
- Can I contact you if I have more questions?
Please email questions to: