Editor’s Note: The Campbell Law Observer is taking a break from its usual editorial cycle to present first-person accounts from our law students who have enjoyed summer internships across the nation. This is the first of four submissions to be published during the Fall 2015 semester.
Every law student is familiar with the all too frequent question, “So, what do you want to do when you graduate?” My go-to answer has always been, “I am not sure yet, I just know I want to help people and I love being in the courtroom.” Now, as a third year student, I am starting to feel the pressure of actually having to make the decision of which career path I will pursue. This summer, I was lucky enough to have two great opportunities to pursue my interests and finally nail down an answer to that question. I spent the majority of my summer as an intern with the Buncombe County District Attorney’s Office, and was also able to spend an unforgettable week in Honduras with a precious group of orphans.
The longer I spent working alongside the Assistant District Attorneys, the more I realized just how many people’s lives they have the ability to impact
Traveling home to spend time in a courthouse overlooking the breath-taking Blue Ridge Mountains and returning to see my favorite Honduran kids is my idea of a perfect summer. My time at the Buncombe County District Attorney’s Office met, and far exceeded my expectations. I spent every single day in a courtroom, gained invaluable experience, and got to work with some of the most dedicated and welcoming members of the North Carolina Bar. My supervisors and colleagues trained me on how to take control of the courtroom, and from day one I was treated not as a lesser person because I was an intern, but as a professional and a member of the team. I asked at least one thousand questions, and received one thousand patient and thoughtful answers in return. Even with full calendars and unpredictable caseloads, each Assistant District Attorney I worked with took the time to teach me, train me, and give me endless opportunities to gain practical experience.
I also spent every single day of my internship with members of my community who were hurting, confused, upset, and in need. I had countless opportunities to speak with victims, witnesses, and pro se defendants. Each person had a different concern or issue that they needed help with. Whether it was understanding the court process, feeling like justice had been served for the harm they were caused, or simply wanting someone to listen to their story, each person I spoke to had a need that I was given the opportunity to help meet.
The longer I spent working alongside the Assistant District Attorneys, the more I realized just how many people’s lives they have the ability to impact. As attorneys who take an additional oath to seek justice, prosecutors have the ability to pursue cases for victims who have been harmed, dismiss cases for defendants who have been wrongfully accused, and protect our community by securing convictions for those who pose a threat to our safety. However, in the moment, when you are dealing with an upset and frustrated victim all while trying to manage a full day of trials, motions, and pleas, it can be very easy to be short and unresponsive with them and move on to the next case. I have to admit that that there was more than one time that was a very tempting choice. However, I realized that the more understanding and compassion I met people with, the more patience and kindness they had towards me and our understandably frustrating legal system.
As a law student, my first instinct was that I should practice adoption law once I graduate. Unwilling to give up on having time in the courtroom, I began brainstorming ways that I could work on adoptions and still practice criminal law so that I could have trials.
As I previously mentioned, my summer was filled with two wonderful opportunities to learn. While the two experiences may seem to be polar opposites, I was able to take away lessons from both of them that allowed me to come to a better understanding of what career path I should pursue. The summer before I began law school I had the opportunity to spend a life-changing week with an amazing group of orphans in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. After a week of laughter, tears, and overflowing love, I moved to Raleigh and began my journey as a Campbell Law student. I spent the majority of the next two years trying to find a way to go back to Honduras and see my friends again. This summer, I finally had that chance. Just over halfway through my internship I hopped on a plane and traveled back to spend time with some of the most precious kids I have ever met. The children got to leave their orphanage for the week and come meet us at camp. We led them through a VBS style week of games, singing, crafts, sleepovers, and fun. I dove into the week head first, and spent every hour of every day showing love and care to each of the 42 orphaned children at camp. During our week together we kicked soccer balls, struggled through conversations with the two-dozen Spanish words I knew, slept snuggled up together in bunk beds, laughed while we made and traded friendship bracelets, and cried together as the buses loaded up to take the children back to their children’s home. I still wear my bracelets from camp as a daily reminder of the children and the unexplainable impact they have had on my life.
Spending time with these children is good for the soul. They can inspire you and break your heart all in the same hug-accompanied, “Hola, ¿cómo estás?” They have individual stories that will leave you in tears, yet they still have a love for life, find reasons to smile, and have dreams and aspirations for their future that would exceed your expectations. As you might imagine, it is hard to spend more than a couple of hours with these children without wanting to do something to “help” them. As a law student, my first instinct was that I should practice adoption law once I graduate. Unwilling to give up on having time in the courtroom, I began brainstorming ways that I could work on adoptions and still practice criminal law so that I could have trials.
As attorneys, we have the special ability to serve people in some of their darkest times.
I returned home and fell right back into my routine as an intern with the District Attorney’s office. I struggled for the next few weeks with how I would balance my passion for the courtroom and my desire to help as many people as possible. It took a good amount of time, but I finally learned an important lesson, and realized what my calling in life is; I am a public servant. That may mean that I will work in the courtroom seeking justice for those who cannot find it themselves. It may mean that I will help find homes for orphaned children. But it does not mean that I can help everyone. As attorneys, we have the special ability to serve people in some of their darkest times. Not only do we have the ability, but many of us also feel a calling and responsibility to help those people who cannot help themselves. A common trait among many public servants is the seeming inability to say, “No.” We want to help everyone we can in any way we can, and in my case that desire has led to difficulty determining which career path is right for me.
For me, this summer was one filled with experiencing and learning. What I learned this summer is a lesson that all public interest attorneys need to know. I am a public servant, but I am not Superman. I will not be able to take every case, save every victim, heal every hurting soul, or right every wrong. There will be times when I have to say no, or have to make the decision which cases to focus my time on. This is true not only for me, but for all public servants. We cannot do everything. However, what we are able to do, we must pursue with diligence, understanding, love, and compassion. It is much more meaningful, rewarding, and life changing to dedicate all of your resources to touching the lives you are given the opportunity to change rather than to try to help so many people that you spread yourself too thin. Taking the time to dedicate yourself to the people in need that are right in front of you may not feel like you are changing the world, but it will change the world for the person you took the time to show love and compassion to.
As I complete my final year of law school and enter into the workforce, I intend to keep this lesson at the center of my focus. I do not know where I will end up living, where I will work, or whom I will be able to help. What I do know is I will treat every victim, defendant, witness, orphan, and hurting person I have the opportunity to serve, with diligence, understanding, compassion, and love, just as I have been called to do.
Lora Meredith Mercer is a 3L at Campbell University School of Law who will graduate in May 2016. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.