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Robert Mihara

Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia

Robert Mihara

How did you get your job? 

I secured the summer clerkship by interviewing at the Public Service Career Fair at the University of Texas at Austin with their recruiting director. Dean Thorner and other students in their second and third year encouraged me throughout the Fall term to consider applying for interviews. I was prepared over the winter break to submit my applications, and I think that was a significant reason why I was successful in gaining several interviews. The keys were having a good one-page resume, doing my research to carefully tailor the cover letters to the employer and then being authentic and engaged in the interviews.

What was the most surprising thing you learned at your job? 

The most surprising thing I learned was how varied students were in terms of their preparation for legal work. I think it is easy to slip into the presumption that everyone is uniformly prepared and competent except for you. I certainly felt that I was catching up even when I believed myself to be prepared, but group projects and mock trial helped to temper that feeling. Everyone brought valuable contributions to the effort, but, similarly, everyone came to each project with gaps or shortcomings and benefited from the help of others

What did you like most about your job? 

I most enjoyed talking with the attorneys about their work in the mentoring mode. I got a good amount of that in the mock trial work PDS set up for us. In the absence of courts being in session, it was the only kind of invested, real-time interaction in the work of trial attorneys. So, it was especially valuable for the clerks this summer.

How do you think this experience has helped you in your career path?

PDS gave me a rich array of experiences and basis of knowledge through the project work, brown bag lunch webinars, and mock trial sessions. The kind of informed perspective one gains through those kind of events is invaluable because it enables you to see yourself and the profession more accurately. So, I think PDS has helped me immensely by equipping me to make better choices in law school and ultimately in the job application process.

What is the most valuable thing you’ve learned at this job? 

I think getting more comfortable with legal communication skills was the most valuable thing—in both written form through briefs and memos as well as orally through mock trial work with other clerks under the supervision of attorney mentors. Being able to communicate is everything in serving clients, and learning by doing is the best way when it comes to communication.

Did your job change in a virtual workplace?  How did you interact with your co-workers? 

The virtual workplace puts a high premium on the ability of everyone to be organized, skilled in team leading and to be competent in basic project management. There are next to no opportunities for serendipitous meetings or catching the creative energy of others in a remote work environment, but you still need the benefits of that environment for your clients. It is incumbent upon attorneys and their staff to find ways to capture as much of those benefits as possible by using structure, conscientious and pro-active engagement across the team, and setting up some kind of progression schedule toward the ultimate end. We were able to do some of that because PDS had a dedicated IT section and a high-but-manageable case load, but it was still not something that we did as well as we could because the demands were novel and because those team and project skills are not universally taught by law schools, firms, etc.