“Get tough. Have the fire in the belly.” That was an ADA’s response when I asked him what makes a good lawyer. It’s about being a fierce advocate for what you believe in and having a commitment to getting to the truth of things in an effort to be as fair as possible.
In criminal proceedings, a heavy burden falls upon the prosecutor. They must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. This principle of law is enshrined in the Constitution, helping to form the foundations of our judicial system in which a defendant is innocent until proven guilty. Every day at the Worcester County District Attorney’s Office, I get to both observe and assist Assistant District Attorneys as they seek to satisfy their burden. It’s a difficult job because not all parts of the incident will be introduced in court, and preparing for a case requires extensive preparation and communication with the defense. Being a prosecutor is, at its best, about uncovering the truth, which reminds me of Brandeis University’s motto, “Truth, even unto its innermost parts.”
Over the course of my internship, I have realized how much the law shapes the society that we live in. It can be frustrating to see the same defendants appear in the courthouse again and again, or to go through a defendant’s discovery folder for a case and see that their record is several pages long and usually is motivated by addiction or gang affiliation. This further proves that early prevention and diversion programs, such as the community outreach that I help with, can change the trajectory of a person’s life. While free will (and the personal responsibility that accompanies it) is of course the single most important factor that determines whether or not someone commits a crime, there are many systemic issues and injustices that contribute to such a heavy caseload for ADAs, the most pressing of which is the opioid epidemic in this country.
The ADAs that I have had the privilege of interning for face the uphill battle of uncovering the truth and seeking justice with hard work, determination, and steadfast support of one another. This internship is extremely hands-on, so I have pushed myself to take the initiative to reach out to ADAs and seek out projects that give me exposure to court proceedings. The courthouse is a new world that I have had to learn to navigate and understand. The legal profession is like its own language, so asking for clarification is now something that I am extremely comfortable doing because that is the key to understanding my surroundings. Everyone involved in a trial is in the courthouse at the same time, meaning that being able to read the room and navigate the nuances of a particular situation is essential. Law is an obsession with accuracy of language. Lawyers use the power of expression as a means of advocacy. In order to be a good lawyer, you have to be committed and prepared. You have to have the fire in the belly.