Often times, first-year law students are constrained to classrooms and curricula and never experience the day-to-day rigors of life as a practicing lawyer.
But Yuma County Legal Defender Jose Angel de la Vara attempted to break the mold by giving his four summer law interns the opportunity to work a simulated case from beginning to end and culminating in a mock trial on August 4 in San Luis.
“I've talked to a lot of (law) interns, and they haven't had anything nearly as great an experience as we have had,” said Andrew Clark intern from Arizona State University.
Earlier in the summer, the interns were assigned a case as if they were actual attorneys in his office, said de la Vara.
During the course of the program, each intern had to establish a relationship with their client, interview witnesses, file motions and negotiate with the prosecutor.
“This program has brought law school to life,” said Jessica Zink an intern from the University of Arizona. “I've gotten to work on cases and meet actual clients. There has been a reason to do the work, instead of just reading about it.”
After conducting all the research and fact gathering, the interns had to present their case to a jury in Judge Jorge Lozano's courtroom.
For all of the interns it was their first time arguing a case in court.
All of the interns took turns defending their client and countering the charges assistant legal defender Emily Hart, who played the prosecutor, introduced to the jury.
“Up to this point, I've only been focusing on law and how it's applied,” said Clark. “But in a trial, the focus is all on the facts and how you interpret them. The trial required a different set of skills that I haven't encountered in school yet.”
Once the trial concluded, and they had an opportunity to reflect on their performance, some of the interns were surprised what they learned about both themselves and their future career path.
“When I started I thought that I wanted to do contract law,” said Clark. “Now I know that litigation is what I really like. I found out during the trial that I do enjoy the adversarial nature of the courtroom. Contract law seems very dull now.”