July/August Volunteer Feature: The Legal Aid Society Honors Ilona Coleman-Lange, Criminal Defense Extern from Dewey & LeBoeuf LLP
This month, the Legal Aid Society would like to honor Ilona Coleman-Lange, a sixth-year litigation associate at Dewey & LeBoeuf LLP. Ilona was Legal Aid's first extern with the Criminal Defense Practice; her 6 month externship recently concluded. Legal Aid Attorney Claudia Conway was Ilona's primary mentor. During her externship, the Legal Aid Society's Pro Bono Practice sat down with Ilona to talk about her experience. Excerpts from this interview can be found below.
Ilona Coleman-Lange, associate at Dewey & LeBoeuf LLP, interviews a client in Manhattan Criminal Court.
LAS: What is a day-in-your-life like as a criminal defense trial attorney?
Ilona C-L: The first month, in addition to preparing briefs and motions, I shadowed Claudia as she handled arraignments, hearings, plea negotiations, and worked on a homicide case that had resulted in hung juries in two previous trials. This has been a phenomenal experience as Claudia is an excellent lawyer.
LAS: Do you have any cases in which you are lead counsel?
Ilona C-L: At the sixth week mark of my externship I began independently to handle arraignments. This is very challenging work. In a compressed time frame, I examine the complaint and learn about the client's employment, immigration status, and other relevant factors. In order to be fully prepared to negotiate with the A.D.A. and make a bail application, I have had to call a client's boss at off-hours and speak with the client's spouse or partner. This is a critical phase in the case for a variety of reasons such as establishing a rapport with the client; obtaining as much information as possible to draft pretrial motions and determine the weight of the case. Of course the goal is to ensure that clients are released on their own recognizance and that bail is not set.
LAS: What kind of caseload do you have in your fifth month?
Ilona C-L: I have twenty-two cases that survived arraignment, plus matters I am working on with Claudia. Legal Aid attorneys have many times that caseload at all levels of preparation and complexity. Their caseloads are staggering.
LAS: What do you see to date as the greatest value you will take back to the firm?
Ilona C-L: Working at Legal Aid has allowed me to take control over all my cases. I am in charge of how my cases proceed. I think more strategically about the entire case. Claudia and I had a Martin Act commodities fraud matter and we had to consider several things such as the facts of the case, the strength of the government's case, whether to plead or go to trial, the essential witnesses, the penalties, impact on the client's job prospects, and so on. It has been phenomenal to get that type of experience and my litigation skill-sets are sharper.
This interview in its entirety can be found in the summer issue of the Legal Aid Society Pro Bono Practice Newsletter.