Before I started my internship at Family Law CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) I thought I knew everything about the work they did and the people they served. I’d seen a couple presentations from national CASA and even done fairly extensive research about the organization. I’ve lived in Seattle my whole life, and my parents are divorced lawyers so I figured that family law would be surprise-free. I also watched both Legally Blond movies the night before my first day and I assured myself that this adequately prepared me for the work I was about to do. It will likely come as no surprise that I was wrong. Very wrong. Even my bus rides to the office, which is located in an arguably sketchy area of downtown Seattle, have taught me that I don’t know my city or the people in it half as well as I thought I did.
The reality is that google and cheesy law movies might have given me a vague idea of what CASA does on paper but in no way prepared me for the emotional realities of the work. I have now seen almost every step in the extensive advocacy process. I receive the Orders of Appointment and upload them to our database, type up background checks, prepare the information for the advocates and their supervisors, read and edit reports from the advocates, e-file the documents for court, prepare the case files and binders for trial, and finally process and archive cases once they are closed. Honestly it’s all been fascinating but the most challenging and rewarding part of my work is the constant reminders that these cases are more than just words on a page. They are people’s lives, children’s lives. Hearings, trials, and even briefly talking to the advocates and the parties in our cases makes the reports we file even more real to me. These are real people, real families, who are struggling.
The work has been, at times, emotionally jarring and sometimes exhausting. Family Law CASA advocates for children who are in the middle of a custody battle and must choose a side (or suggest a compromise between the two sides). However, the law, especially family law is complicated, and in many cases neither party was an objectively suitable parent. Being forced to choose “the lesser of two evils” when it comes to determining a child’s future well-being is a harsh reality to come to terms with, but often it’s the best we can do.
I originally decided to take this internship because psychology fascinated me and I wanted to see if a career in the legal system might be of interest to me. My internship has already taught me more than I expected about psychology and the law, and life outside of my bubble. I’m excited and honored to continue working with Family Law CASA and the families they represent for the rest of the summer. Later this month I’ll even be attending CASA’s advocate training program. I’m excited to learn about the hard work of CASA’s volunteers and who knows, I may even become an advocate one day.
Experiences like Anne Elise’s are made possible by the Whitman Internship Grant, which provides funding for students to participate in unpaid internships at both for-profit and non-profit organizations. To learn how you could secure a Whitman Internship Grant or host a Whitman intern at your organization, click here or contact Internship Coordinator Victoria Wolff.