My group of interns at Ypsilanti’s adult misdemeanor court are managed by two public defenders, Colina and Andrew. They are both very no nonsense in the court room, where we generally have a long docket that requires fast paced work in order to go home at a reasonable time. This attitude really intimidated me at first, and I took their seriousness personally. Now that I have been working for a while, I have come to know a much more relaxed side of my bosses. On our office days, when our workload isn’t so pressing, they have large, fun personalities, and we have a good time exchanging stories about our crazy clients. As I have gotten to know them, I have come to really admire the way the attorneys can compartmentalize their character in order to work efficiently, but when I first began and expected them to hold my hand, they terrified me.
On the first day the attorneys sat us down and gave us a massive amount of information regarding the different charges we would be working with and what to do in each case, as well as general court room procedure. As soon as the lecture was done, I found myself following them into the court room to actually apply what they had just told me. Looking at the docket that day, I recognized only a couple of the many abbreviations for the charges, and even those I had little idea how to discuss with our clients. As someone who always reads and re-reads the to-do manual before acting, this style of instruction really threw me for a loop.
That day I was so afraid of messing up in front of my bosses, who I desperately wanted to impress, that I didn’t attempt to move out of my comfort zone at all. I went home feeling disappointed with myself, because I wanted to participate and I knew I was there to learn by action, not just observation. In order to do this, in the following days I found myself in a position of having to work through my confusion and act sure of myself, even when I was not. With this, I also had to get over my fear of making mistakes and looking dumb in front of the attorneys.
Since that first week, I have gained confidence in the court room, and learned that it is okay to be confused sometimes. Now I can look at our docket and recognize many more charges than I did the first day, while also recognizing that I still have a lot to learn and that is okay. I know now that asking questions is also okay, and it is much more impressive to be confident in my mistakes instead of being paralyzed by my fear of them. Although I was freaked out at the time, I’m glad the attorneys made me learn on my feet, because in hindsight it was much more valuable than my usual step-by-step instructions.