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A Decision Not to Regret

Thursday, August 18, 2011

  • Elizabeth Knox
  • Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma, Inc.

Article written by LASO Intern, Elizabeth Knox, published in OBJ.

Deciding where to complete your first summer internship in law school can be a difficult decision.  Everyone is so focused on surviving the first year that the decision sneaks up on you quickly.  People talk about working at large firms, clerking for judges, finding a solo firm in their hometown, and working in public service.  Each sector has its own attractiveness, so how do you choose?

I chose based on exposure. I had already accepted a position as a research assistant, so I wanted my internship to go beyond drafting memos and into the courtroom.  To me, I needed to find a place where I could interact with clients, observe court proceedings, and learn how the rules and cases I have been living and breathing all year long could have a lifechanging effect on people.  I needed to work in the public service sector.

So, I went to a pro bono fair and met Sharon Ammon, the volunteer coordinator for Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma. After exchanging information and asking a few simple questions, I knew that this was the perfect internship opportunity for me. And now, nearly a month into my summer, I can say with confidence that I made the right choice.

Walking out of Legal Aid after completing my first day as an intern, I was so relieved. Karl Rysted, my supervising attorney, was so eager to answer my questions and take time out of his day to ensure that I was learning as much as possible.  While I was exposed to unfortunate stories of domestic violence, I left feeling uplifted because I was able to help the victims take the first step out of a difficult situation.  I couldn’t wait to come back the next day.

Within a few days, I was in court observing the Victim’s Protective Order docket.  A week after that, I was sitting in on an attorney/client interview. The following week, I attended a YWCA training class on domestic violence and was given a tour of their women’s shelter.  Then, just last week, I was asked by my supervising attorney to handle the intake decisions while he was out of town for a couple of days. Karl, of course, would review my decisions upon his return.  Still, I was excited and determined to utilize everything I was learning in order to reach the right decisions. Just as I expected, other attorneys were happy to answer any of my questions while Karl was gone.  They even went out of their way to pop in my office and ask how things were going.

Beyond learning the courtroom etiquette and the practical application of the law, I learned one valuable lesson that, unfortunately, many attorneys never learn.  I learned that even the most emotionally draining work is easily approached with a positive attitude if you maintain a life outside of work.  Being in law school, I heard everyone from professors to practicing attorneys tell me how necessary it is to establish a proper work/life balance.  However, it never truly resonated until I was walking through an office filled with low-stress, positive attorneys.  The work/life balance that comes with choosing a career in public service is essential in being able to assist clients with stories that would cause anyone’s stomach to turn.

Spending my first summer in law school working at Legal Aid was one of the best decisions I have ever made.  I strongly encourage everyone to find the time to volunteer with a public service organization by either completing an internship, choosing one as a career path, or simply volunteering to work pro bono on
just one case a year.  Trust me — you won’t regret it!

Ms. Knox is a second year law student at the OU College of Law.

1868 The Oklahoma Bar Journal Vol. 82 — No. 20 — 8/6/2011


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