It is not often that a high school student gets the honor of spending a day with a District Judge. I have that honor after spending a day during spring break with Judge Keith Ellison at the US District court in Downtown Houston. As soon as I waked into the elegant waiting area, I felt important, and I felt like I belonged. The Judge was already sitting down with two other students. He greeted me, and as he shook my hand, I felt my nervous system jolt inside me with excitement. I was so nervous, but after a few minutes, Judge Ellison made me feel so welcome that the nervousness went away. As time went on, my mind kept running, and I thought, “I could someday be in a place like this.” Judge Ellison’s clerk took us into his personal chambers, and I felt overwhelmed - his office was so lavish, and in a corner, his robes were elegantly displayed. Once again I thought “I could someday be in a place like this.”
The three of us who were shadowing the judge sat down in his office and suddenly, a few lawyers came into the room. They greeted us with such professionalism that I couldn’t help but stand in awe; I was speaking with top-notch lawyers. We discussed topics like what made their job most interesting and what kinds of cases were most stressful. Among laughs, I suddenly realized that any doubt I had about going into this career field faded away; by talking to the lawyers, I knew this was what I wanted to do in the future. Some of these lawyers, in the beginning, did not want to go into the legal field, but as they went through college, their dream of giving justice to the innocent led them to a career in the legal field. All of the lawyers agreed that they had to have a certain degree of passion in order to be successful in their jobs.
The most interesting part of the day came when Judge Ellison told us that we would have the opportunity to sit through a sentencing. I was curious to see how a judge gave a person a sentence. The sentencing that day pertained to a drug case, I was amazed at the fact that these seven men were all being tried for the same case, BUT they all got different sentences. After Judge Ellison finished with the sentencing, we went back to his chambers and we bombarded him with questions. My question was about why the men all got different sentences. The judge and the lawyers all answered with the same response - each man got a different sentence because they use a chart with levels to place each person on trial, then they can either earn or lose points based on things such as previous criminal history, compliance with the authorities, and the extent of their crime. I was impressed, I did not know that before. I went into that room, but as we continued talking I was delighted to know that while earning a law degree would be challenging, in the end it will be worth it, because I could have the opportunity to use my conscience to impact the life of a person.
The whole time I spent with Judge Ellison, I was absorbing everything I could. At the end of the day, as we had to say our farewell, I couldn’t help but ask if he ever regretted coming into the legal field. All he told me was, “Never regret the choices you make, those choices are the ones that not only define your present but also your future.”
My final takeaway: Anyone interested in pursuing a career in the legal field should sharpen their analyzing and writing skills, since those play a big part in a lawyer’s career. More importantly, we shouldn’t let our dreams fade because one day we might look back at our lives and wonder, “What if….”