Description of the Program

Every year, the Federal Public Defender’s Office for the Central District of California (FPD-CDCA) offers four students an opportunity to work directly on death penalty cases in our Capital Habeas Unit (CHU). The students begin the summer with a one-week “boot camp” where they learn the “nuts and bolts” of capital habeas litigation. Over the next nine weeks of the program, we strive to involve the students in all aspects of our work: investigating the factual bases for our claims, researching discrete issues in criminal and constitutional law, drafting claims for federal habeas petitions, and writing sections of appellate briefs. During the summer students will also have an opportunity to observe case-management meetings and participate in moots for Ninth Circuit arguments. Our summer program typically provides students with many opportunities to watch trials in district court and oral arguments at the Ninth Circuit. All in all, this program provides students with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to gain, in just ten weeks, a sophisticated understanding of the criminal justice system and what is required to provide meaningful and effective representation to criminal defendants

Unfortunately, at this time the CHU does not offer clerkships during the school year, nor do we have a post-bar program. Law students at Loyola who want to work in our office during the school year are encouraged to apply to our Capital Habeas Litigation Clinic, which we operate with Loyola Law School. For more information, students should visit Loyola Law School’s Alarcon Advocacy Center website.

Time Commitment

During the summer, law clerks agree to volunteer 40 hours a week for a ten-week period. During the school year, law clerks agree to volunteer anywhere from 15 hours to 40 hours a week.


Applicants to the program must be attending or have recently graduated from an accredited law school. The program seeks applicants with strong written and oral communication skills and a demonstrated interest in indigent defense.

Obtaining School Credit

Many law school programs will award academic credit to participants in the law clerk program. The requirements and procedures vary depending upon the specific school’s guidelines. The law clerk is responsible for coordinating between their school and our office to assure that all relevant paperwork is completed.

How to Apply

For the CHU’s summer law clerk program, please submit a cover letter, resume, and writing sample by email to

Timing for Applications

For the summer program:

Direct applications are accepted on a rolling basis, with a final deadline of the last day in January. We recommend that you submit your materials as early as possible. Please note we are no longer accepting applications for Summer 2022.

For the semester or post-bar fellowship program:

Applications are accepted on a rolling basis. Again, we recommend that you submit your materials as early as possible.

In addition to accepting applications sent directly to our office, representatives from our office also attend several career fairs, including the fairs sponsored by Equal Justice Works, Public Interest Legal Career Fair at NYU, the Annual Northern California Public Interest/Public Sector Legal Careers Day, and the Annual Southern California Public Interest/Public Sector Career Day.

The FPD-CDCA is strongly committed to the principle of diversity and actively encourages applications from people of varied and diverse backgrounds.