Summer Series: Finding Your Passion
Our Summer Series continues! This series highlights different Latina students and law grads as they embark in their summer jobs and/or bar prep all across the country. We hope to provide a variety of work experiences, options for a healthy work-life balance, and general motivation through different guest contributors to help you to take charge of your summer and professional goals! Today we hear from Amanda, a rising 2L, who shares her exciting internship with in a public defender’s office:
It’s amazing to be able to turn your passion into action. Going into my first year at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, I knew I definitely wanted to make a career in Public Interest. I have always been passionate about social justice, current events, and service work. Halfway into my 1L Criminal Law class, a new fire was ignited within me. I began to do more research about criminal law, and I realized that being a criminal defense attorney brings together my two interests, so I ran with it.
This summer, I’ve been fortunate to have been given a position at the Contra Costa County Public Defender’s Office in the bay area of Northern California. So far, it’s been a challenging experience but very eye-opening and inspiring. My first four weeks at the office have allowed me to get up close and personal with our criminal justice system, and have given me special opportunities to interact with the various characters that have roles within the system.
Even though I’ve only been in the office for a few weeks, I have been able to witness the power and resilience of the attorneys in the Public Defender’s office. Each and every one of them are amazing people who have the biggest hearts I have ever seen. They genuinely care about the people they represent, and have mastered the ability to look past the stereotypes and mistakes that the clients have made, in order to best represent them and allow them to exercise their rights.
In undergrad, I became knowledgeable about the importance of race, gender, and economic status, and how those factors affect and intersect with our country’s criminal justice system. As a mixed-race Latina woman, I feel empowered to be able to use this education to help others and combat the terrible injustices that happen everyday in our justice system. It is saddening to see the unfortunate reality that the majority of people affected by our criminal justice system are people of color. I have come to realize that the system is in fact set up to target and take advantage of minorities, which only perpetuates the racist notions that are embedded in our society as a whole.
I have had several people ask me why I would ever want to defend criminals. It is a tough job to read about gruesome accusations or to interact with people who are at very low points in their lives. But I see it like this: I am not condoning the crimes that are being alleged in these cases, but everyone has a right to a fair trial and good representation, everyone has a right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. The people who we represent deserve these same rights, and since the whole system is stacked against them, public defenders are usually the only people on their side. I want to be the person on their side, even if I’m the only one. This experience has forced me to sharpen my emotional intelligence, and remember that these are real human beings who could have their lives changed forever.
I know that I only have 1L under my belt, but this experience has already made a big impact on my view of society and the way in which our society operates. After finishing my first year of law school, I felt mentally exhausted, but I knew that I had definitely made the right career choice. It makes me glad to have found something that allows me to make a big difference in the lives of individuals and contribute to the greater good. When I visited some clients in jail with one of the public defenders a few days ago, one of the inmates asked me if I’m an attorney, and I said, “I’m just a law student, but I will be.” And he said “you’re going to save me.” And it filled my heart with so much hope and love. I am excited to continue on this path and work towards providing a voice to those who do not have one.