Swinging for Justice: Navigating the Fairways of Law in a Public Defender’s Internship

Alexandra, a white woman with blond hair, wears a dark grey blouse and matching blazer.

By Alexandra Bentley  

Prior to entering law school, I served as a police officer for seven years, witnessing firsthand the impact of legal representation and developing a strong desire to advocate for justice. After my 2L year at Elon Law, I had the incredible opportunity to intern at the Forsyth County Public Defender’s office this summer. This experience not only provided me with valuable insights into the inner workings of the court system but also deepened my understanding of the importance of government and public service law. In my spare time this summer, I also embraced new challenges by learning to play golf which helped me frame this new experience.

Picture teeing off at Augusta National – a scenario much like delving into the complexities of the public defender’s office. My journey from being a police officer to a law student set the stage for a unique perspective. This perspective allowed me to approach my internship with the precision and dedication of a seasoned golfer.

Each task became a parallel to a golfing experience. Unraveling discovery files felt like selecting the right club for the shot – a meticulous process of identifying the critical pieces for defense strategies. Just as golfers approach each hole differently, I tailored my approach to each case. Just as a golfer meticulously readies themselves for a round, I immersed myself in preparation for my public defender’s office internship. During my internship, I was involved in a wide range of tasks that allowed me to gain a comprehensive understanding of the legal process. While golfers assess course conditions and perfect their swings, I delved into legal procedures and assessed discovery files. Just as golfers anticipate bunkers and hazards, I prepared for intricate legal complexities such as analyzing criminal elements.

Golfers face diverse challenges – water hazards, tricky terrain, and sand traps. Likewise, navigating the legal landscape as an intern required me to embrace complexities. From tackling intricate cases to connecting with diverse clients, I learned to strategize just like I would on the golf course. The similarities became evident as I developed legal strategies mirroring a golfer’s game plan. One of my assignments required me to track down and analyze discovery for a case. This involved meticulously reviewing and organizing evidence, witness statements, police reports, and other relevant materials that would be crucial for building a strong defense strategy. Working through and organizing discovery can be like playing with a bag full of mismatched clubs. Each case presents a unique challenge of finding the right ‘club’ or piece of evidence that fulfills or fails an element of a crime. This process allowed me to contribute to the development of defense strategies and provided me with a deeper understanding of the importance of thorough case analysis.

Though golf appears individual, players rely on caddies and fellow golfers. Similarly, my experience in the public defender’s office underscored the importance of collaboration. Working alongside attorneys, paralegals, and support staff was akin to a golfer’s interaction with their team. Just like golfers depend on their support network, I drew from my colleagues’ expertise. Engaging with my supervising attorneys was akin to the golfer-caddie relationship. Collaborating with these professionals was like choosing the best approach for a challenging golf lie. Shadowing attorneys mimicked watching golf pros on the fairway – observing their strategies in court and negotiation tactics.

Conducting research mirrored analyzing course conditions. Diving deep into statutes and case law felt like studying the course to craft robust defenses. Writing memos became a practice in precision – much like refining a golf swing for optimal results. Observing trials was akin to watching a golf tournament. Witnessing legal principles in action was akin to observing the artistry of golf swings, each with its unique style and finesse. Engaging with clients was the most fulfilling aspect – much like hitting a hole-in-one. Listening to their stories, understanding their concerns, and offering support was humbling and reinforced my commitment to equal justice.

While my passion for helping people and advocating for justice has always been my compass, this internship helped me realize that, similar to golf, there are numerous avenues to achieve these goals within the realm of law. The diverse challenges and strategic decisions in golf are mirrored in the myriad choices that government and public service law offer. This realization encouraged me to explore these different avenues, much like a golfer exploring various clubs to perfect their game and impact each shot.

Drawing parallels from my internship experience, I am eager to advise fellow law students to grab hold of opportunities in the government and public service field, just as a golfer takes precise hold of their club before a swing. These internships are akin to walking the fairways of the legal system, offering a firsthand experience of the real-world consequences of legal decisions. Working alongside dedicated professionals, much like learning from experienced golfers, provides invaluable insights and guidance. By exploring the diverse landscapes within government law, you can uncover your true interests and aspirations, similar to a golfer navigating different terrains.

Much like a golf swing, my summer internship left an indelible mark, altering my trajectory with newfound understanding. I witnessed the pivotal role that government and public service attorneys play in ensuring access to justice, akin to how a golfer’s precision drives the ball toward the target. This experience not only elevated my career goals but also etched my commitment to the government and public service realm, echoing the way a golfer’s commitment hones their skills.

To my fellow law students, I implore you to step onto this metaphorical golf course of government and public service. Just as golf shapes a player’s character, this field offers insights that extend beyond the classroom. It’s a journey that, like golf, can redefine your approach, improve your skills, and lead you to make impactful choices on society’s fairways.

In conclusion, my summer internship at the Forsyth County Public Defender’s office taught me that the world of golf and the realm of legal advocacy share more than just a few similarities. The skills, focus, and resilience I’ve honed on the golf course found a natural home in the challenges and opportunities of the legal field. By intertwining my passion for golf with my journey in law, I’ve discovered a unique path that has enriched both my personal and professional growth.

Alex Bentley is a third-year law student at Elon University School of Law. Alex received a $1,000 scholarship from the NCBA’s Government & Public Sector Section to support her internship with the Forsyth County Public Defender’s Office in Summer 2023. Each year, the GPS awards one or more scholarships to law students who show demonstrated interest in public service and who work in an unpaid summer internship in a federal, state, or local government office in North Carolina.