On Residency in the N.C. District Court with Ayo Kuforiji L’21

An Elon Law residency-in-practice with judges of the North Carolina District Court in Guilford County helped Ayo Kuforiji L’21, who wants to eventually represent children at the center of legal disputes, better understand courtroom dynamics and processes.

This is the first in a springtime series of stories on recent residency experiences for Elon Law students in the Class of 2021.

What do you do when two parents have a custody agreement not in the best interests of a child? How do judges separate any personal views on a case with the way the law says a dispute should be handled?

And what is it like for a lawyer to argue a case when she knows the facts and the law itself may not favor her client?

A residency with North Carolina District Court judges in Guilford County offered Ayo Kuforiji L’21 the opportunity to see this winter the many ways judges consider the merits of any case before them and, at times, issue rulings with lifelong implications for those in the courtroom.

“The law really helps judges keep that balance,” Kuforiji said. “They have to follow the law and they have to figure out situations and it can be difficult, especially when you hear things regarding parents and children and relationships.”

More importantly, she says, time spent in the hallways and judicial chambers of the Guilford County Courthouse reinvigorated her interest in courtroom litigation.

Elon Law’s Residency-in-Practice Program is the only one of its kind in American legal education. Students earn academic credit by working full-time under the supervision of a judge or attorney during the winter or spring of their second year.

The experience is grounded in a learning plan that students develop with their supervisors and a professor to increase proficiency in at least two legal skills and in an area of law practice.

Legal writing was among the skills Kuforiji honed by helping to draft orders and conduct research. But it was the stories of those who found themselves in a courtroom – or, in some instances, a virtual courtroom – that resonate.

Ayo Kuforiji L’21 with Judge Marcus Shields of the North Carolina District Court in Guilford County. Kuforiji completed her 2021 Winter Trimester residency-in-practice with the county’s District Court judges.

For instance: Kuforiji observed and assisted with a motion to revise a custody order where the mother of a young girl had indicated that the child was no longer interested in seeing her father. Kuforiji was in the Zoom call where the child explained her fears.

“This was a child who you could tell was mature, and she was crying, that’s how badly she was in fear of her life,” Kuforiji said. “It’s difficult. The legal standard is to rule in favor of the best interests of the child. Whatever those best interests may be, that is the goal of the court. It is not to say, ‘Oh, this parent is bad or this parent is good.’ It is to determine the best interests of the child.”

The judge modified the custody agreement where the child was given more space while affording her father an opportunity to seek therapy. The goal? Have the parent and child mend their relationship so that regular visits could eventually resume.

Kuforiji’s interest in the legal profession dates to her youth. The Delaware native and Wesley College graduate saw custody battles unfold between close family members, and she remembers how unfair it felt not being able to speak to a judge.

“Though I wasn’t in the courtroom and didn’t know the details, I was able to witness the effects they had on my family,” she recalls. “I want to be able to help children going through the same situations. I knew growing up that was what I wanted to do, and that being a lawyer might be the best way to achieve my goal.”

Having completed her residency-in-practice and with Commencement less than a year away, Kuforiji is one step closer to making that happen.