As students listened to the many stories Assistant U.S. Attorney Wilfredo Fernandez shared from his 23 years at the U.S. Attorney’s Office, outbursts of laughter and the occasional cringe filled the room. Fernandez was joined by Miami Law student and HOPE Fellow Alex Calle, who completed an internship at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Narcotics Division during the summer of 2013.
“It was a pleasure to have Mr. Fernandez back to campus to speak to the Miami Law students,” said Marni Lennon, Assistant Dean for Public Interest and Pro Bono and Director of the HOPE Public Interest Resource Center. “He is a superb example of exceptional lawyering and demonstrates the commitment to serving the public interest we hope to foster in our students.”
Fernandez, an Assistant U.S. Attorney since 1991, has served as Chief and Deputy Chief of the Major Crimes Unit of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Miami, Florida. He has tried 75 federal jury trials to verdict, specializing in white-collar crime. In 2009, he received the Director’s Award from the Department of Justice for his work on a $1.2 billion tax fraud case and was selected as one of the Most Effective Lawyers in South Florida by the editors of the Daily Business Review.
Fernandez is currently the Director of Training and Professional Responsibility for the office and serves on the office’s Hiring Committee. In addition, he has a long history with Miami Law having taught Legal Research and Writing for 17 years and having served as a supervising attorney to countless Miami Law interns.
Fernandez provided an overview of federal agencies that he frequently works with in his capacity as an AUSA. Agency by agency, he highlighted interesting cases he has worked on, and encouraged students to explore internship opportunities with the various agencies.
He stressed that the work is for trial lawyers who are exceptional writers. “You have to believe it and sell it,” he said. “We will train you. Every day I am being reminded that the person I am prosecuting is someone’s mother, daddy, sister or brother. It is not for the faint of heart, but the work is essential. It is critically important and you need to be prepared. It is different every single day – arson one day, child pornography or smuggling the next.”
Fernandez also spoke of the fulfillment he finds in his work, while noting that the salaries are not commensurate with practicing in the private sector. “Something about doing the right thing every day is extremely fulfilling and to know I am making a difference—not just making money—is what it’s about 23 years later.” He added that the ability to balance work and family was invaluable to him. “I didn’t miss family events. I never had a federal judge tell me I couldn’t leave at 4 pm for my daughter’s play.”
Students had the opportunity to ask questions regarding next steps in their career and how to connect with the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Calle spoke highly of his experience at the U.S. Attorney’s Office. "Working at the U.S. Attorney's Office during my 2L summer was a wonderful experience. I was given the opportunity to work on complex narcotics cases by helping Assistant U.S. Attorneys with research and writing, with debriefings of federal agents, and with trial preparation. Any Miami Law student who wants to work on interesting cases, improve their research and writing skills, and learn trial strategy from some of the best trial attorneys in the country should look into interning at the U.S. Attorney's Office.”
While the U.S. Attorney’s Office does not hire lawyers right out of school, Fernandez gave students advice on planning their paths to employment with the office. “When looking to hire,” he said, “they are looking for experience and, if you went private, they look for pro bono work. You have to have personality and be ready to sell. We want people who are committed to the community you are serving and committed to public service.”
Wilfredo Fernandez and Alex Calle