Public Defender's Office helps hone legal interviewing skills

Catherine Bryant in the Class of 2018 is the latest to be featured in a series of profiles on Elon Law students whose summer internships offer them new insights and knowledge into the legal profession.

For some law students, especially those entering the final stretch of their legal education, summer employment might enhance career prospects in a particular area of law.

For others, such as those who recently completed their first year of law school and want to explore various interests, summer employment offers an opportunity to learn about the many ways law is practiced. They use their summer work to develop nascent legal skills applicable in many situations.

Catherine Bryant falls into the latter group.

A native of Raleigh, North Carolina, Bryant was inspired to attend Elon Law after completing a civil liberties class during her senior year at Meredith College. Now entering her second year at Elon Law, Bryant is currently working for the Wake County Public Defender’s Office and will spend part of August interning for the Hon. John M. Tyson of the North Carolina Court of Appeals.

Bryant – active in the Elon Law Review, the Women’s Law Association and the Law School Republicans – is the latest student to be featured in a series of summer employment profiles that showcase experiential learning opportunities for Elon Law students.

The following conversation has been lightly edited.

What inspired you to pursue a legal education and a career in law?

As an English major I always enjoyed reading and writing. During my senior year at Meredith College, I took a civil liberties class where we explored First Amendment cases that addressed issues such as freedom of speech, religion, and association. Reading and briefing the cases, along with the controversial conversations that we had in the classroom, sparked my interest. I then talked with some family friends about law school and found that the profession fascinated me.

Tell me about the type of legal assignments you are completing this summer at the Public Defender’s Office and the way in which your work is helping others.

I am interviewing clients, witnesses, and officers that are involved in cases for which the office is responsible. I type reports from these conversations and present information to attorneys in memo format. Talking to people involved in the cases is different from the amount of writing that takes place in law school. Learning how to gain the trust of a person and figuring out how to ask questions that will lead to relevant information is extremely important.

What led you to this opportunity and how does it complement your interest in the law?

I reached out to a friend of my father’s who is in the criminal field and she connected me with the Wake County Public Defender’s Office. She explained that working in the office is rewarding and challenging work, which caught my interest. Since I am unsure of what area of law I would like to pursue, this internship is giving me a wide variety of experience in the criminal law field. Talking with the attorneys about what they wish to gain, which varies case-by-case, shows the many different approaches to a client’s problems.

In what ways do you believe this internship will prepare you for your Elon Law residency-in-practice early next year with Gordon & Melun PLLC in Raleigh?

I will better understand how to ask important questions that come with gathering information or facts of a case. Being able to extract all possible details from a client is incredibly important because it decreases the number of surprises that could be revealed in a court setting.

What are you learning about yourself as a result of this experience that wouldn’t have been possible in a classroom setting?

Talking to people about the hard situations they are facing can be an extremely tough process. People do not always seem to remember situations in factual ways. They instead tend to embellish the incident. Most of the time this is not on purpose; however, it does make getting the true facts of the incident for the attorneys a difficult task.

Describe how the Office of Career & Student Development assisted you in securing summer employment.

This office helped me revise my resume and cover letter, and helped me put together a plan of action when deciding whom I should contact for a summer internship.

What would you like to share with other students about this internship and the skills you’ve developed because of it?

An internship of any kind is extremely helpful because it takes everything you’ve learned in a classroom and puts it in a real situation. The issue-spotting and research skills learned in the classroom are important, but also learning to talk and communicate with the clients is as important as those skills learned in class, if not more so. 


Visit the Office of Career & Student Development for more information on summer and full-time career opportunities.

Previous Summer Employment Profiles:

Aarin Miles (Class of December 2017) 
Brittany Hart (Class of December 2017)
Gabe Mirabelli (Class of December 2017)
Janelle Wendorf (Class of December 2017)