Current Job: Brooklyn Public Defender
Undergraduate College: Barnard College, Columbia University
As an undergrad at Barnard, Debbie played goalie on the Columbia varsity hockey team. In retrospect, that should have tipped her off about the kind of lawyer she’d turn out to be.
She entered Cardozo with the goal of becoming a courtroom litigator – probably a prosecutor – and interned for the Kings Country District Attorney during her second year at law school. As it turned out, however, an internship at a criminal defense firm during her final year made all the difference. She started her career at Brooklyn Public Defenders after graduation and has never looked back. “After working in defense for just a short period,” Debbie says, “I knew I had found the right practice area.”
She explains: “Most of my clients come from poor socioeconomic and underprivileged backgrounds, and I love being a voice for so many who often have never had anyone stand up and advocate on their behalf. It is not uncommon that after addressing an issue in court, my client will turn to me with a look of surprise.”
What’s more, “Working in criminal defense has allowed me to do actual courtroom litigation from my first day on the job – an opportunity that is not afforded to attorneys in big firms. I'm in Brooklyn Supreme Court almost daily and have tried several felony and misdemeanor jury trials, thereby developing unique skills that could one day open up other professional opportunities.”
Debbie advises that the best thing students can do for themselves is get out of the classroom and into the courtroom – a common refrain among practitioners. “I spent the majority of my time in law school doing internships so that I could get as much hands-on experience as possible. Memorizing a textbook or case will not make you a better litigator – actually practicing the law will. I took as many trial advocacy, appellate law, and other 'hands-on' courses as I could to start developing the skills I hoped to use once I graduated. I also participated in moot court and trial team, which were not only good for a résumé but also developed my passion for courtroom advocacy. I only regret,” she laughs, “that I ever spent money on a law school book.”
And network, network, network. “During your internships, develop relationships with attorneys for whom you are working – your reputation and work will go a long way when you apply for a job.”
Debbie concedes it was no accident she found her home in defense work. “As a hockey goalie I was the last line of defense. I feel the same way when a client has been handcuffed, arrested, processed, brought to arraignments, and charged, and I meet them for the first time. In the ice rink, you have to take a firm and stable stance, focus, and use your training to do everything in your power to protect your team. Every time I meet a new client, I do the same – use my training, skills, creativity, and confidence to protect each client from the criminal allegations they face.”
As a competitor, Ms. Silberman won First Place at the Oxford International Moot Court Competition in Oxford, England, First Place at Cardozo’s Langfan Family Constitutional Oratory Competition, was a finalist at TYLA’s Trial Competition in Syracuse, NY, and won a Cardozo Jacob Burns Medal for Outstanding Moot Court Achievement.