1 Saint Andrews Plaza. A strangely shaped, somewhat nondescript concrete building just steps from the Brooklyn Bridge in downtown Manhattan, housing the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York. Just past security looms an enormous Department of Justice seal, clearly visible above the main doors. I stood there on my last day, the July sunshine warming my face, craning my neck to take it in. The motto blazed across the bottom of the seal in elegant capitals.

Qui Pro Domina Justitia Sequitur. Who prosecutes on the behalf of justice.

The US Attorneys are presidentially-appointed federal prosecutors, and there are a total of 94 in the nation. Each represents the federal government with jurisdiction over a specific federal district, dealing with crimes that violate federal statutes. Prosecutors – or Assistant US Attorneys – work with federal law enforcement to charge and try defendants, representing the United States before judge and jury. With jurisdiction over Manhattan, the Bronx, and other New York counties, the USAO-SDNY is one of the most powerful – and certainly the most storied – US Attorney’s Offices in the nation.

As an intern, my summer was filled with intriguing case work, fascinating testimony, and fiery opening statements. With a background in Middle East politics, two years of Arabic language training, and fascination with national security and counterterrorism, my placement in the Terrorism and International Narcotics unit could not have been more appropriate. I worked directly with paralegals and Assistant US Attorneys to compile trial materials, peruse documents, transcribe videos, and listen to prison calls. I read indictments, court transcripts, legal research, and sworn affidavits – some names in which I actually recognized. And by the end of the summer, I finally began to grasp the vast amount of investigation, paperwork, and preparation that must be completed before a jury can be selected and a trial can begin.

But while the work itself was fascinating, the rest of my summer was an incredibly immersive experience in federal law. With prosecutor’s training materials and legal databases at my fingertips, I tasked myself with learning as much as possible about national security law. I read through prosecutor’s manuals and white papers focused on counterterrorism law, learning about the methods and practices used to charge suspects. I networked with current AUSAs in my unit with backgrounds and interests similar to mine, and I came away with a stronger idea about the path I wanted to take to a career in prosecution. I saw countless trials in narcotics, securities fraud, and public corruption – including a high-profile conviction of a Chinese businessman who bribed United Nations Ambassadors over property in Macau.

The best part of the program, however, was the brown bag lecture series the interns were invited to. We heard from paralegals, federal agents and investigators, current AUSAs, and the chiefs of every unit in the Office. They took us through the famous indictments of Bernie Madoff, Sheldon Silver, and Osama bin Laden. From every attorney, paralegal, and investigator, we heard the same message: Do the right thing. Charge defendants when you can prove their guilt. Drop cases where you can’t. Conduct searches and investigations within the scope of the Constitution. Fight for justice, but do the right thing.

During my second week, every intern in the Office crowded into the wood-paneled law library to attend an interview with Joon Kim, the Acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York. One statement he made stuck with me. “We see some people who want to work here because they want to convict people,” he said. “Those are the people we want to avoid.”

Looking at the seal on that humid July afternoon, I understood what he meant. Up until now, I wanted to be a lawyer because I loved arguing in the courtroom. But this internship made me realize that being a lawyer is not about trial time or convictions or putting people in jail. It’s about serving your country by committing yourself to the pursuit of truth. I was leaving behind an office full of passionate attorneys who understand the unique power of the prosecutor to fight for what they believe in. They stand up in a courtroom not to defend any client who hires them, but to defend justice. They have integrity, honor, and humility. They are patriots.

Qui Pro Domina Justitia Sequitur. Who prosecutes on the behalf of justice.

I left with a renewed determination to one day join their ranks.

Ramya Prabhakar

Ramya Prabhakar

Ramya Prabhakar is a junior at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD, majoring in International Studies and Political Science focusing on the Middle East and security issues. In her free time, she loves singing, laughing, and doing things she's not good at, like bowling and laser tag.
Ramya Prabhakar