Heilbroner was a fresh law school graduate who took a job as a New York D.A., and then wrote this book about his time there. He started out handling misdemeanors, and there are a LOT of those. There's basically an assembly line, running all day and all night, to bring in those who have been arrested, get their paperwork to a D.A. for charging, get the arresting officer in to make a statement, and getting a hearing before a judge where the defendant usually pleads guilty and gets a fine.
The Public Defender has a similar assembly line going.
When his shift would start, he describes walking into the office, stepping over or around all the officers sleeping in the hall waiting to have their statements taken, then picking up all the cases that the previous shift was working on when their shift ended. Often he'd end up in court with a stack of cases he'd never seen, and have to frantically work to read the notes from the previous shift and skim the officer's statement as the case was being called.
When his shift ends, the cases he's working on are handed off to someone on the next shift, and almost always will be resolved by the time his next shift comes around. So there is no engagement with the case, he's just a cog in the machine, processing his pieces of paper as the pass through, and occasionally taking statements from officers, and reading from these pieces of paper in front of a judge.
Eventually he gets to handle felony cases, which for both the D.A.s and the Public Defenders are more like what they had in mind when they were in law school imagining what their jobs would be like--taking a case all the way from charging through to a trial, and actually making serious legal arguments.
It's quite an eye opener.
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