The Importance of an Internship and What I Learned from Mine

At the end of last semester, I faced a crisis. Torn between the world of law, the newfound language I’d grown to love, and the possibility of mixing the two, I stood at a crossroads that would determine my path for the rest of my life, and there was nothing left for me to do but to take the first step in one of the three directions. 

Before I become too dramatic, let me take a step back and explain. During my sophomore year of high school, I became fascinated with our country’s criminal justice system, but more specifically, I was drawn to the prosecutorial side of our courtroom. The idea of justice, especially for the ones most desperately in need of it, was something like a drug that I couldn’t seem to get out of my system. I was convinced that I had discovered my calling, my purpose in life.

And then I came to college.

I fell in love with a foreign language that consumed every free moment in my day, and just like that, I wasn’t so convinced that I was making the right choice in my career. Of course, I didn’t want to be a professor or a teacher of the language, but the thought that there were other, albeit more difficult to find, options out there was tempting. Could I have been wrong about what I was meant to do? Despite the conviction that burned in the pit of my stomach like hot coals, could I have made a mistake? 

So, I did what any sane person on the edge of existential crisis would do—I threw myself into the profession. I was given the honor and privilege of working with a team of incredible prosecutors and investigators at the district attorney’s office in my hometown. Which leads me back to where I started—standing at the edge of one of the most important crossroads in my life. 

The reason for telling you this over-the-top backstory is so you can understand the mindset I was in when I headed into my internship this summer. I needed answers, and what I got was so much more than anything I could have possibly imagined. But the insight that I gained isn’t just applicable to the job of a state prosecutor. Its scope reaches into even the personal aspects of one’s life, and so, I would like to share the advice I received with all of you.

If something seems difficult, don’t shy away. Throw yourself into it.

As an undergraduate going into sophomore year who’s only legal experience could be compiled into the 20 running seasons of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, you can imagine how daunting it must have been to suddenly have entered a world where every action you take, intern or not, has a very real consequence. Granted, my work was always checked by the ADA I was shadowing, but being told to draft charges with the word ACCUSATION written in bold, black ink across the top does hold a certain weight to it. However, I didn’t back away from the challenge; I put everything I had into that first page, and slowly but surely, as the summer progressed, typing up those charges didn’t seem nearly as terrifying as before. Was I still making mistakes by the end of July? Of course. The point was not to be perfect. The point was that the challenge made me better. 

When a certain story or situation checks every box on your “Preconceived Notions” list, make sure to take a step back and reevaluate.

This lesson was by far the most difficult one for me to learn. I will be the first to admit that I’m stubborn, and once I make my mind up about something, I don’t usually like to change it. We, as humans, love it when facts or stories confirm our already existing biases, and rarely do we seek out contradicting opinions. Unfortunately, life doesn’t fit nicely and neatly into those boxes we form for ourselves. When you come across a situation that verifies everything you already believe, remind yourself to look at the whole picture and investigate further. Chances are, you’re missing some key pieces of information.

Do what you must.

The meat and potatoes of any legal show is the glamorous trial where the prosecutor stands up, presents a snappy closing line and waits for the jury to return a guilty verdict. Cue the fireworks and confetti! The reality, however, is that cases (especially ones with hefty felonies in tow) aren’t always so cut and dry. This summer, I had the opportunity to watch an actual trial, but unlike the TV portrayal, the jury returned a not guilty verdict. To say I was upset would be an understatement. While the outcome wasn’t exactly a shock, it was still disheartening. In the end, though, it wasn’t about the conviction (although one would have been nice); it was about following the law and trying to get justice for the victim. When it’s all said and done, we don’t fight because we win; we fight because we have to. 

Defend your position.

A wise ADA began my internship with a single quote: “Yes and no. Now choose.” This saying persisted every day that I showed up to work, and with every case that passed through my hands, I was made to choose. Not only did it make me a better debater, it also forced me to critically analyze every piece of the story before making a decision. In life as in law, there are two sides to every coin, two choices that you can make. You can either say yes or you can say no, but whatever you pick, make sure you defend your choice. Be educated, be reasonable but don’t be wishy-washy. Stand firm in your beliefs, and if nothing else, you’ll gain the respect of those around you.

This internship, the amazing people I met, the incredibly interesting and sometimes maddening world that is our legal system, every part of this summer was an experience I will never forget. Any and all hesitations or concerns were put to rest. I took the first step forward since I reached that crossroad. 

At the beginning of the summer, I was prompted with a simple statement: “Yes and no. Now, choose.” Three months later, I’m proud to answer that I have.