Career Options – Public Defender

January 31, 2017

Benji McMurray‘03 spoke to BYU Law students about his work as a public defender on Friday, January 27, 2017, providing 10 tips on how to be a successful lawyer. McMurray is an Assistant Federal Public Defender and represents indigent defendants in federal court.
McMurray decided to become a public defender as an undergraduate student. He had picked up a copy of Atlantic Monthly and read an article about people who were wrongly convicted. “I was horrified to realize this had happened in America,” he said. “I decided to become a public defender because I wanted to make sure that criminals got the representation they deserved.”
McMurray’s 10 tips to become a great lawyer:

  1. Clerk for the court where you will practice: “I cannot overstate the value of a judicial clerkship.”
  2. Practice deliberately: “Anyone can defend the guilty; it’s defending the innocent that’s hard.”
  3. Know why you could lose: “If you don’t know why you could lose, you will.”
  4. Write like the brother of Jared: “My honest hope is that my arguments will be overpowering to read.”
  5. Be involved in the larger conversation: “Remember the big picture.”
  6. If you’re going to be a lawyer, be a philosopher, too: “An idea I learned from classical philosophy is that leaders should be philosophical.”
  7. Have humility and empathy: “Empathy is enormously important for lawyers. As a public defender I can’t correctly represent my clients if I don’t understand them.”
  8. Be a Constitutional lawyer: “It’s an honor for me to defend the Constitution.”
  9. Take a religion class every semester: “I wish I had done this in law school; it needs to be a constant priority to be in the middle of faith.”
  10. Learn how to deal with failure: “When I make mistakes people go to jail.”