Internships allow young people to witness inner workings of law

Baltimore program moves into new area for the second time

July 16, 1999|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

Dressed in a silver business suit, Xiuli Xu sat quietly and typed corrections onto a proposed stipulation of facts in a civil court case.

It's tedious work, but the 16-year-old says she's excited about a summer of helping lawyers handle landlord-tenant disputes, typing documents and answering phones. The work might help her decide on a career.

"I want to know if law would be a good" profession, Xiuli said. "I'm still not sure what I want to do."

Like eight other Howard County high school students, Xiuli is working for lawyers this summer thanks to a Maryland State Bar Association program. That program, Law Links, has been connecting students and lawyers in Baltimore since 1994 and has helped 42 city students find jobs this summer.

This is the second time organizers have tried expanding beyond Baltimore -- in 1994, the program was held in Prince George's County but did not return.

Next year, organizers hope to add five more Howard County students and possibly expand to other counties.

Besides working for lawyers and a judge, the Howard County interns also will listen to several legal lectures.

"We think it's a valuable program," said Janet Eveleth, spokeswoman for the bar association. "We'd like to see every county have the program. It's an excellent learning and professional experience."

Dressed in coats and ties and sleek business suits, the youths looked like law school students interviewing with lawyers at a recent luncheon. Nine students in Howard and 42 in Baltimore were selected from about 350 applicants, organizers said.

"They are so impressive," said Circuit Judge Diane O. Leasure, who has 16-year-old Neil Gormley working in her office. "These young adults are going to serve us well."

The other afternoon at the law firm of Adams & Adams, Xiuli was working hard. She wants to be a lawyer or a doctor and has an impressive resume -- several advanced placement classes and a 3.9 grade-point average at Wilde Lake High School, where she will be a senior this fall.

Not bad for an immigrant who started speaking English when her family moved from Shanghai, China, to Silver Spring in 1993. The family moved to Columbia in 1994.

Xiuli hopes to become the first child in her family to earn a college degree and feels drawn to law and medicine because, she said, they require leadership and compassion.

"Those are the most influential people in society," Xiuli said. "I like helping people. Lawyers protect the innocent. Doctors get to help people."

Exceeding expectations

On her first day at Adams & Adams, Xiuli was exceeding expectations. Attorney Betty Adams thought some work might be beyond the teen-ager and had planned to have her answer phones and learn the computer system.

Instead, Xiuli stunned Adams by quickly correcting several legal documents in her first hours at the office.

"Now that I see her," Adams said, "I don't have those concerns."

Xiuli also will work four weeks for lawyer David Harvis.

Program organizers worried that expanding into Howard County might be difficult because many of the law firms are smaller than their Baltimore counterparts and might not be able to afford paying students $5.50 an hour. At Adams & Adams that wasn't the problem -- finding space and meaningful work for Xiuli presented a bigger challenge.

"It's really not a large wage," Adams said. "It's the space and time it takes to explain things, finding projects that [match] her experience" level.

Xiuli smiles often. In fact, the smile seems permanently fixed on her face. But that charm can be deceiving. She thinks she could become a fierce litigator in the courtroom.

"I'm really serious," she said. "Maybe you see me smiling all day and think I'm not a serious person, but I really am."

Students get experience

Another Law Links student, Leasure's intern Neil Gormley, is also considering a legal career. He will be a senior at Mount Hebron High School and is president of its mock trial club.

"There's no better way to get the taste, the feel for it than to be here where it's going on," said Neil, who is working four weeks at the courthouse and another four with a lawyer.

Intern Corina Snoeren, 16, who attends Wilde Lake High School, is another pondering a legal career -- she recently helped her mother study and get through law school.

"My mother says I think like a lawyer," said Corina, who is spending the summer with a title company.

"I thought this was a good way to find out."

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