Fellowship Spotlight: Sela Brown

August 17, 2022

The Cleary Gottlieb Fellowship Program places associates at legal services or nonprofit organizations for one year, providing critically needed legal work to underserved communities.

Sela Brown, a current Fellow at the Office of the Appellate Defender, shares some of her thoughts about the experience thus far.

Why did you choose to join Cleary initially?

I chose to join Cleary because of the firm’s impressive work in complex litigation as well as its dedication to public service. Cleary also has a strong reputation as a collegial firm where attorneys enjoy working.

What drew you to the Cleary Gottlieb Fellowship Program?

Throughout law school, I was dedicated to criminal defense work. I knew that I would be able to continue to pursue this work by taking on pro bono cases at Cleary. When I learned about the Fellowship Program, I was thrilled that I would have the opportunity to continue this work as a new attorney and give back to the community I grew up in.

How did you get paired with the Office of the Appellate Defender (OAD)?

I knew that I wanted to work for a public defender organization. OAD is well known for being a top appellate provider in New York and a place where new attorneys can receive incredible training. It was an easy decision to go to OAD, where I could advocate for individuals while strengthening my own legal writing and advocacy skills.

Can you provide an overview of the type of work you are doing at OAD?

OAD handles direct felony appeals from trial and pleas in Manhattan and the Bronx. I am assigned my own caseload. For each case, I review trial transcripts and records, determine strong legal issues, conduct legal research, write briefs, and argue in front of the First Appellate Division. Throughout, I build and maintain a relationship with the client and ensure that I am advocating for their desired outcome.

What has surprised you most about the fellowship?

I was given an incredible amount of autonomy and trust to determine the best legal strategies for each case. While I had immense support and guidance from supervisors and colleagues at OAD, this allowed me the chance to tackle new legal issues and grow as an attorney.

What kinds of challenges have you faced during your fellowship?

There are stark inequities that we see daily in the criminal legal system, which result in a disparate impact in who is policed and in charging and sentencing decisions. Witnessing this reality first-hand and fighting against a system that is built on those inequities is a heavy task. I have found that speaking candidly with clients about the reality of the system, while promising to advocate for them to the fullest extent possible, has helped build trust in our relationships.

What skills have your learned at OAD that have served you well?

Throughout this year, I have been able to further strengthen my legal research and writing skills. In each brief that I have written, I have learned new legal issues and gained valuable feedback and advice from experienced attorneys.

What advice do you have for a First Year Cleary Associate who may want to pursue a similar path?

Take advantage of the many opportunities that Cleary provides to pursue your interests. Take on pro bono cases that allow you to work with local organizations like OAD.

What are you looking forward to most upon your arrival at Cleary?

I am looking forward to applying the skills that I have developed at OAD to the litigation work at Cleary. I am also excited to continue my pro bono practice.

Learn more about the Cleary Gottlieb Fellowship Program here.