From a Childhood Dream to Reality
With funding from the REAL program, Sofia Russell ’22 completed an internship at the LA Public Defender’s Office, following her childhood passion for law and solidifying her plans for the future.
By Sarah Stoddard '23
Senior Sofia Russell’s passion for political science and law began when she was in middle school. “I used to love crime shows like Law and Order and Criminal Minds,” she says. “When I was younger, my goal was to be a detective or someone who got ‘the bad guys locked up.’” As she grew older, she realized that she actually enjoyed the law aspects of these shows and became interested in the justice system. Russell entered SCU as a political science major, and decided that law was indeed her passion and the career she wanted to pursue. With support from the REAL program, she was able to participate in an internship at the Public Defender’s Office in Los Angeles—an opportunity that has solidified her passion for criminal law and prepared her for success in the future.
As an intern at the Public Defender’s Office, Russell gained critical insight into the world of criminal justice. She worked directly with her department’s lead attorney and paralegal on researching and writing declarations to the proper Court. “I plan on attending law school in the next few years,” she says. “Thus, working directly under an attorney and for the city was my ideal internship.” Some of Russell’s tasks included conducting client intake forms, organizing case files, following up with clients about their current court procedures, and reaching out to Courts to obtain past conviction files and testimonies. In addition to this, Russell got the opportunity to lead different research projects. “One project I conducted was reaching out to community colleges in the area to work directly with our department on expungement seminars and information sessions to be available to their students, which in turn widened the awareness of our department and gave our community better access to our legal aid,” she explains.
One of the most important parts of Russell’s experience was the opportunity to help people through her work. “I assisted aiding homeless individuals with getting past wrong convictions expunged,” she explains. “With convictions, these individuals have nearly no access to housing, shelter, or employment.” Russell would like to pursue similar opportunities in her future career. “Since I was young, I knew whatever career path I wanted to take had to involve helping people,” she says. “As an attorney, I will be able to do that. I hope to go into juvenile law or nonprofit litigation, which would make a big impact in helping improve our communities.”
During her internship, Russell found that her sociology minor had a major impact on her experience. “Sociology has widened how I view individual perspectives as well as society as a whole,” she says. “Usually when it comes to law, decisions are black and white. Legal or illegal. So often I have that perspective when I am doing political science work because I’m used to it and can sometimes not be as empathetic as I should. Sociology gave me the chance to improve on that.”
Russell’s experience over the summer at the Public Defender’s Office was by no means easy. She was faced with confronting many difficult stories and tragic life experiences. “Most of the clients had very hard journeys and struggles from sexual assault to drug use to imprisonment,” she says. “It was hard to not think about their stories and feel sad.” However, the most rewarding part of her experience was the fact that she got to help these people turn their lives around. “Sometimes these convictions occurred 20 years ago and still had a negative impact on their lives, and the thought of helping them fix a mistake or wrongful conviction from so long ago was very rewarding,” Russell says.
Without the REAL program, Russell explains that she probably would have needed to get another job over the summer to support herself during her internship. This is a common experience for many students and a place where funding from the REAL program makes a great impact. For Russell, the opportunity to dedicate her time to this internship was especially important as it solidified her future plans and allowed her to fulfill her childhood dream of helping others. “My internship this summer only further proved my desire to go into law and be an attorney,” she says. "I had the opportunity to help and work with so many low-income individuals who are marginalized and struggling in understanding the justice system."
“Helping others and making their lives even a tiny bit better has greatly impacted my life in the most positive light.”