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At Valen Zeltser's law school orientation, he was told, "By graduation, many students change their minds about the type of law they want to practice." He felt certain this would not apply to him. He was set on becoming a prosecutor.
In accordance with his plan, after his first year of law school, Valen accepted an internship at a district attorney's office's Special Victim's Unit. But he was surprised when it didn't feel like the work he was looking for. "I liked my internship and I was surrounded by very talented people, but I had expected more client interaction," he said.
After experiencing the prosecution side, Valen thought a natural shift would be "going to the other side of the coin." That fall he began an internship at the Albany County Office of the Public Defender working in criminal and family courts. Instantly, he knew it was his ideal career.
In family court, Valen worked on custody matters, family offense petitions, and child protection issues; in criminal court his work involved bail applications. In the summer of his second year of law school, he returned to the Public Defender's Office to exclusively work in family court.
Now, especially in family court, Valen is able to experience the client interaction he was seeking. He meets with clients and helps negotiate with opposing counsel to figure out settlement approaches.
"The best part about the Public Defender's Office," he said, "is the team of people you work with. They go out of their way to help their clients and to mentor rising legal professionals. Once you prove yourself, they allow you to take on as much work as you can handle."
One of the most rewarding aspects of his work is the ability to help indigent clients. "When people don't have a lot of money and need a lawyer, it's a very stressful time for them. The Public Defender's Office guides them through the system with compassion, and we are on their team at all times," Valen said.
Valen also experienced private-practice defense when he volunteered to work for a local attorney, Ted Hartman, on a specific case defending a man accused of a double homicide.
Born in Brooklyn, raised in New Jersey, and a graduate of Rutgers University, Valen, now a third-year law student, continues to be committed to his work at the Public Defender's Office. When his apartment lease ended, he chose another within walking distance, even closer to his office. After graduation he is hoping to start his career at the Public Defender's Office to "continue to help people who are on the margins of society and are usually overlooked."
To Valen, the hallmark of Albany Law School is its seat as the only law school in New York State's capital, which allows students an array of opportunities for internships and employment.
"Because Albany Law is the only law school in the area, there are opportunities for students to explore their passion regardless of how specific their niche is," he said. "The field placement program, the Family Violence Litigation Clinic, and my summer internships have allowed me to experience what I need to become a confident courtroom litigator."