Internship and Externship Experiences, Faculty Mentors Helped 3L Find His Calling in Criminal Law

Peraza in the courtroom looking at the camera

When Daniel Peraza Soles L’24 started at the Syracuse University College of Law, he wasn’t sure what area of the profession he wanted to pursue. But, after taking classes from experts in the field and participating in externships and internships over two summers, he decided that criminal law was the way to go.

Two pivotal experiences helped shape his choice. The first was working in the summer of 2022 as an extern at the Public Defender’s Office for the Ninth Judicial Circuit Court in Orlando, Florida. He credits “four amazing felony attorneys” from the Public Defender’s Office for serving as mentors and allowing him to see what goes into preparing for a criminal court case.

“I was able to sit in on psychological evaluations, go into jail cells and meet with the clients and more,” he says. “It’s interesting work, and I started to see how this experience also helped people along the way.”

His second experience, in the summer of 2023, helped to solidify his decision when he worked as an intern with the Office of the Federal Public Defender for the Northern District of New York.

Peraza working on a laptop with classmates in Dineen Hall

“The work I did there was invaluable,” he says. “I was given many opportunities to come up with my own creative ideas to help the attorneys assist clients in any way possible.”

This led Peraza Soles’ interest in finding out more about the defendants’ backgrounds. “Part of the work of a criminal defense attorney is discovering as much as they can about an individual’s health or family struggles in order to bring these things to light and see how we can make their experiences known at sentencing,” he explains. “You’re dealing with someone’s life, so it’s incredibly important information to have at the time a person is sentenced. It’s not about asking for people to be let off for their actions, not at all. It’s more about wanting to make sure the court understands what each person has been exposed to and get them the help they need, so one day they might be able to reintegrate into society.”

His interest in criminal law led him to write “People Not Numbers,” a class assignment on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE), which, while not an exact indicator, can show the likelihood between the aspects of the home life of minors—negligence, abuse or exposure to drugs and alcohol, for example—and future criminal involvement.

Of course, his coursework and interaction with Syracuse Law faculty over the past three years has also helped affirm his decision. He is grateful to Lauryn P. Gouldin, the Laura J. & Douglas Meredith Professor of Teaching Excellence, Crandall Melvin Professor of Law and director of the Syracuse Civics Initiative, who teaches various courses related to criminal law for being a mentor to him. Gouldin’s scholarship focuses on the Fourth Amendment, and Peraza Soles is grateful to her for “helping me to understand criminal procedures and letting me talk her ear off about what I think about the Fourth Amendment,” he says.

Peraza in the courtroom looking at the camera

He is also especially appreciative of Professor of Law Todd Berger, director, advocacy programs, and a former public defender, for helping him to understand what he could expect in criminal law and assisting him in developing his litigation skills; as well as Associate Teaching Professor Courtney Abbott Hill L’09 for helping him learn to properly prepare legal documents, providing feedback on resumes and cover letters, and encouraging him to take the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE) after 1L, so he wouldn’t have to stress about it as he studies for the bar this summer.

Peraza Soles has been very involved in Syracuse Law since he enrolled. As a 2L, he was vice president of the International Law Society and participated in three different advocacy competitions, most notably the Ulvaldo Herrera National Moot Court Competition. He is grateful for his involvement with the Advocacy Program, which he calls “fantastic advocacy learning experience.”

This year, Peraza Soles is the executive director of the Travis H.D. Lewin Advocacy Honor Society, something he encourages all students to look into, as it is ranked in the top 15 in the nation. And, thanks to his involvement and hard work, Peraza Soles was the recipient of the Syracuse Law’s Rhoda S. and Albert M. Alexander Memorial Scholarship in recognition of his commitment and dedication to public service.

Peraza chatting with a group of students in the hallway of Dineen Hall

Today, Peraza Soles is preparing for his next chapter post-graduation—a full-time job working at the Colorado State Public Defender’s Office. He is excited to use the skills developed over the past three years to represent the rights of others in a court of law.

“Law school is as challenging as people say it is, but if you can get through 1L, you’re golden,” he says. “Keep an open mind when you head to law school and look at different areas to see which ones appeal to you. You just never know. I didn’t imagine going in to criminal defense when I started here three years ago, but then something clicked, and I saw what I think is a great fit for me.”