Public Defender Shares Career Experiences

Feb 25, 2021

Research and Real Life series continues March 25.

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Save the date: Google senior software engineer Brady Hunsaker will speak 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m. March 25.

Attorney Lisa Middleman shared her thoughts on the judicial system on Feb. 25 as part of Cal U’s Research and Real Life Series, organized by the Center for Undergraduate Research. 

The series highlights people with roots in western Pennsylvania and the importance of research in their professions. 

Middleman, criminal defense attorney and public defender in Allegheny County, Pa., addressed issues with minority representation among potential jurors during her virtual presentation. 

One issue is trust in the legal system, Middleman said. 

Missed this event? Watch Lisa Middleman's presentation on YouTube.

“We have disenfranchised black people and poor people and have eroded trust that the system is fair for them and to them. We have to assure the public that the system will try to make changes for fairness and equity, and the only way to really do that is to involve the community in the decision-making process.” 

Potential jurors in Pennsylvania are summoned based on names from voter and driver’s license registrations. But, Middleman pointed out, other lists could be used to ensure a more diverse and representative jury pool. 

“Allegheny County is 14% black, and that should be represented in those who are called,” she said. 

“As a lawyer, what you want to find like-minded people, who are receptive to your arguments. You are seeking people who are interested in the facts that you have on your side. That’s so important in death penalty cases.” 

Middleman also addressed Cal U students listening to the presentation by suggesting courses and majors that may be helpful for a career in law. 

“I chose history because I liked to read and write, and I thought it was interesting,” she said. “The point of law school is to teach you how to do legal research, which some of us actually find fascinating! 

“Studying history to learn cause and effect is good training.” 

Knowing what type of an undergraduate student wants to pursue can influence course selections, such as science classes for those interested in trademark or patent law. 

“Criminal law is exciting,” Middleman said, "but there are careers in appellate law, for example, that don't involve making your case to a jury.”