By Erika Paul • May 31, 2020•Law School, Internships and Clerkships
Ms. JD ID: erikapaul
I come from a long line of strong women. My grandmother’s mother raised eight children on her own after her husband left the family without an explanation or monetary means to support her family. My grandfather’s mother raised her family once her husband left physically and mentally after World War II. My own mother, in her 20s, raised my brothers and me after my father left us to traverse this crazy world without him. Most people would perceive these events as tragedies, but the women in my family used these difficult circumstances to thrive. They did not perceive the unfortunate events surrounding them as a hindrance to moving forward, but a springboard to launch their family from. These amazing, strong, and empowered women instilled in our family the importance of perseverance in the face of hardship while maintaining empathy for the less fortunate. That is where I come in. Gratefully standing on the wisdom, empathy, and hard work of my an[sisters].
Growing up, I was blessed with two built-in best friends: my younger brothers Clayton and Cody. My mom is a labor and delivery nurse, so her work schedule is intense. She worked nights because it paid more than working days. That was wonderful in some respects like it provided a roof over our heads. However, my brothers and I were often left to our own devices. We spent countless hours planning and executing shenanigans. The fact that we all three made it to adulthood still amazes me to this day—the sole credit goes to our mom.
As I previously mentioned, I was a bit of a rabble-rouser in my younger days. However, once I finally decided to put my energy towards worthy causes, such as an education and a career, I implemented some of the most important lessons my mother taught me: (1) always work hard at whatever you do, and you’ll never be a failure. My grandmother summarizes this lesson in the following colloquial phrase, “make a hand and not a foot, babe.” (2) Never be too prideful to start at the bottom and work your way up. (3) Stay true to who you are and guard your faith. These lessons propelled me through college, while maintaining a job and, ultimately, gained my admission into law school.
I decided to attend law school because I learned of the great disparity in the justice system and access to justice in the form of legal representation for the poverty-stricken and the marginalized. If justice isn’t equitably distributed to all, is it really justice? For me, remedying this issue means becoming a public defender. The best leaders also know how to serve. I want to advocate for individuals who have made mistakes, who don’t have a support system and who don’t have the means to afford representation. The summer after my 1L year I was blessed with the opportunity to work at the Colorado Public Defender’s Office. I spent the whole summer creating mitigation packets for sentencing recommendations. I was even assigned to write a misdemeanor appeal. These tasks were incredibly fulfilling in that I knew I was making a difference. My time in Colorado solidified my conviction that I do not want to merely represent individuals are who innocent, I want to represent individuals who have made poor decisions but who do not deserve the harshest sentencing our system has to offer. My time in Colorado was incredibly impactful, but I missed my family. So, I applied to the Oklahoma County Public Defender’s Office.
In December of 2019, I was hired as an intern at the Oklahoma Public Defender’s Office. My boss assigned me to the misdemeanor division. It is here I am able to help the citizens of Oklahoma who cannot afford representation while simultaneously serving my State. The work is challenging but so worth the effort. I have the opportunity to meet interesting clients from all walks of life and hone my future craft. I hope to become the best advocate and litigator I can be through the instruction of my amazing supervising attorneys.
After graduating from law school, I plan to remain at the Oklahoma County Public Defender’s Office advocating as a servant-leader. I also plan to become a mentor at Stand in the Gap Ministries. Stand in the Gap Ministries is a program that pairs women who are exiting prison with mentors. Mentors meet with a mentee weekly for eighteen months to discuss future life goals and how those goals can be achieved. It is a wonderful program that lives at the intersection of re-entry and sustainable independent living. Through this program, I will be enabled to combine my career in the criminal justice system with aiding individuals who are exiting the criminal justice system.