On a recent Tuesday, Lane DeBellis sat quietly in Iredell County District Court until her case was called.
The second-year intern only had moments to prepare before presenting the case -– a seatbelt violation -- to District Court Judge Thomas Church.
She was nervous at first, but soon enough she hit a rhythm and argued her way to a guilty verdict.
That real-world experience is crucial for DeBellis, 24, a third-year student at Wake Forest University School of Law who is one of several interns involved in the program coordinated through the Iredell County District Attorney’s Office.
It’s unclear when the program began, but District Attorney Sarah Kirkman says it was around long before she became DA in 2009. It mainly caters to high school and college students wanting to get a jump-start on their career or help narrow down their job preferences.
Five of Kirkman’s current assistant district attorneys went through the internship before they were employed, Kirkman said. Now, they pass on information to a new generation.
On average, between five and 10 interns participate at a time, Kirkman said. Currently, three high school students and four college students are involved.
Interns work schedules based on availability, and they are unpaid, Kirkman said.
But most agree the hands-on experience is priceless.
Kirsten Rowe, 18, started the internship about a month ago after she found it through a career fair at Alexander Central High School, she said.
She often sits in on trials and helps around the office.
“From the information I’ve learned in class, I am able to see and understand how it works in real situations,” Rowe said.
Interns learn under the supervision of the district attorney’s office employees as they perform tasks ranging from filing paperwork in the clerk’s office to handling certain matters in court, Kirkman said.
Some participants, like DeBellis, can argue certain cases as long as an assistant DA is present.
“I’ve soaked up so much information so far,” said 20-year-old Sophie Bean, a junior at N.C. State who plans to attend a few more weeks and return during her school breaks.
Bean said the diverse ages in the program allow interns with different backgrounds to learn from each other.
“I clicked with them instantly,” Bean said. “I can ask questions to older (interns) and the younger ones can ask us questions.”
Bean said she learned court procedures inside and out, including dealing with the different agencies involved, from defense attorneys to law enforcement, she said.
When it’s time to get a job, Kirkman said the program can help interns gain recognition and introduce them to a professional atmosphere.
DeBellis joined last year and after she sat through a couple days of district court, she knew exactly what her future held.
“I love it,” she said. “This internship helped me figure out that this is what I wanted to do.”
WANT TO JOIN?
For more information on the program, call the Iredell County District Attorney’s office at 704-832-6616 and ask for Carrie Nitzu. A resume is required.