While vacations are the norm for some college students on their summer break, it is not part of the in-between semester plans for five law students who are coming to Yuma to take part in an internship with the county's legal defender office.
"It's been a great experience so far," said first-year law student Eric Robinson, who attends Arizona State University. "It's only been a week and a half and I can tell that what I'm learning here will be invaluable."
For first-year law student Sebastian Sanchez, who started June 1, it took four days to drive to Yuma from Pittsburgh, where he attends Duquesne University.
"I'm thinking instead of being an attorney, I should be a truck driver," Sanchez joked. "I wanted to participate in the internship because it allows you to see what an attorney really does, instead of learning about what they do in law school."
Sanchez, whose main interests are criminal and immigration law, had originally planned to participate in the program last summer but decided to study abroad in Italy instead.
This year, after staying in contact with Jose de la Vara, the head of the Yuma County Legal Defenders Office, who started the program, Sanchez is finally getting his chance at participating. But he'll do it as an unpaid volunteer instead of an intern.
"I'm enjoying it so far," Sanchez said. "I know I want to practice law in Arizona, but don't know where yet. If I have the opportunity, I would like to do it here."
Participating in the internship is also a homecoming of sorts for Sanchez, who is originally from San Luis Rio Colorado, Son.
"I get to stay with my family for the summer after being away from home for seven years. They are always telling me to go to school around here or to get a job somewhere around here."
The 10-week program, now in its fifth year, lasts from mid-May through most of August. It is intended to give first- and second-year law students exposure to what it is like to work as a defense attorney or prosecutor.
Omer Gurion, who just finished his first year of law school at ASU, said he was looking forward to getting some firsthand experience in the legal profession.
"This is one of the only places for experience outside my classroom. Nothing can suck the passion out of you like a dry book."
Gurion, whose main interest is criminal law, said he is looking forward to learning as much as he can from the attorneys in the legal defender's office. He added that he has also enjoyed spending time in the courtroom, which is something he wasn't able to do in college.
He said he considers himself fortunate to have been selected to the program, given there aren't many paid internships available to law students due to the economy.
So far, first-year law student Amara Edbald has done a lot of research, observed some court hearings and written several memos and motions, tasks.
"I'm going to be able to apply what I'm learning here to my classes next year because this exactly what I'm going to be doing in some of them," Edbald said. "It's learning by osmosis and I want to learn as much as I can while I'm here."
Sarah Spears, who just completed her first year of law school at ASU, said the internship has been a chance to apply what she has learned in the classroom to a real-world professional setting.
"I have seen a lot of application of the theories I have been learning," said Spears, who is originally from Oklahoma. "I will be able to take away a lot of practical knowledge."
All of the interns also spoke about how much they have enjoyed participating in the program and how incredibly helpful and friendly the attorneys at the legal defender's office have been.
"The work environment is what makes any experience worth repeating," said Edbald, who has never been to Yuma before. "The environment here is extremely positive and everyone enjoys working here."
"Everyone here is willing to help us learn," Robinson said. "I think that really says a lot."
Spears added, "I'm definitely going to encourage my classmates to take part in the program when I get back to Phoenix."
Robinson said when he began looking for an internship this summer, he spoke to other students and the career services campus at ASU.
"Everyone has heard of this program and it is very well respected. I talked to some students who actually went through it and they told me they learned so much and how it really prepared them for future classes."
Because the interns are essentially being immersed in a legal environment, Robinson said, the program also helps the interns decide if being an attorney is what they really what to do.
What Robinson said he likes the most about the program is that they are encouraged to pursue the aspects of the field that interests them the most.
"I really didn't expect it to be that way. It's really nice because if we are interested in courtroom procedures, we are encouraged to go spend more time there."
Robinson said only so much can be learned through taking classes, and doing some of the actual work is good experience.
"Writing is such an important part of law school and being able to do it while I'm here is going to help me tremendously."
All of the interns said they are looking forward to observing a case from its beginning as it works its way through the legal process and have already contributed in a search and seizure case.
De la Vara started the program as a way of attracting future attorneys to Arizona. So far he has already hired two former interns: Matthew Marner and Emily Hart, who participated in the program for two years.
James Gilbert can be reached at email@example.com or 539-6854.