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My experience of Amicus’s Spring training weekend: Part 1

My experience of Amicus’s Spring training weekend: Part 1

Anisa Rahman Choudhury

06/03/2024

My experience of the Amicus spring training weekend: part one

Reading time: four minutes 

Amicus is a legal non-profit organisation based in London, which helps secure equal access to justice for those facing the death penalty in the United States. It was founded in 1992 in memory of Andrew Lee Jones. Amicus believes the “greatest impact they can, and do, have is through frontline work both on the ground and remotely”. Every year, the organisation provides autumn and spring training for those interested in volunteering. The training is a requisite for anyone wishing to participate in a US placement and comprises of an optional introductory event and two weekends. Having recently completed the first weekend, this blog will give an insight into what’s involved. 

This year, the spring training took place at the London offices of Clyde & Co LLP. The session started with an introduction to the US constitution, going over fundamental knowledge and the differences between the US and UK legal systems. This was followed by talks on trial procedure which was filled with interesting anecdotal stories. After lunch, Hannah Gorman and Russell Stetler gave talks on jury selection and mitigation, which were broadcasted live from the US. The latter was my favourite part of the day as it gave an overview of the US death penalty and its application. Though it was a long day, there were frequent breaks to keep up energy and I remained engaged throughout. 

The second day began with an extensive cover on the appeals process, which is critical for death penalty litigation. It was beneficial to have a deeper analysis and explanation of it, particularly as we learnt by going through a real case that Amicus worked with. We then had a presentation from Dr Joel Zivot, via a live video link from Atlanta, on junk science and methods of execution. This was a highly eye-opening session that debunked stereotypes like the existence of a ‘painless’ death when on death row. It also encouraged me to challenge my ways of thinking, scrutinise evidence and furthered my critical analysis.

This led to the most interesting part of the whole weekend − the practical workshops. We were given a real-life case and split into groups to evaluate evidence, discern what further steps the defence counsel would take and suggest arguments they’d put forward. This was a great opportunity to implement what we’d learnt. There was a real collaborative environment, enabling us to put together a strong proposal and improve our legal analysis skills. I was also very appreciative of our mentors in the workshops, who were previous Amicus interns. They were informative about their volunteering experiences in the US, the kind of cases they’d come across and what to expect as a future intern. Most of the interns are currently practising in the UK at different stages. Therefore, they were also helpful to advise about a career in law generally, happily sharing tips and answering any questions I had. 

Overall, I’m thankful for the training weekend for the mentoring, educating and personal support I received throughout the two days. With speakers prominent in the legal world, the weekend was a great way to network and meet with people in careers that I’d not even considered. It was also enjoyable to meet other students in the same position, who were either considering a US placement or just passionate about pro bono work. Networking with like-minded people has encouraged me to consider pursuing a socially impactful career. I learnt a lot from my peers about volunteering opportunities, career goals and philanthropy. 

In terms of the actual training, I’d recommend it to anyone interested, as I got a lot out of the event. Even though the presentations were highly in-depth and engaging, we were also given detailed handouts and speaker notes so I can refer back to them in the future. 

The first weekend is the theoretical aspect of death penalty litigation. Next weekend concerns the practical aspect and I look forward to writing about this experience. I hope this blog was helpful and will encourage people to learn more about Amicus’ work.

For more information about pro bono, check out this Feature, which is a guide to pro bono, and our list of pro bono initiatives.