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As an intern, Jayla Hill ’22 helped free clients from jail

Last updated March 17, 2022

By Kelley Bruss

Jayla Hill’s path toward real estate law wound through the Law Office of the Public Defender for DeKalb County, Georgia.

Hill ’22, an economics major from Orangeburg, South Carolina, is set on first pursuing a real estate license and then a law degree that will allow her to specialize in housing. But she jumped at the chance to take a short detour into criminal defense last summer.

“I just wanted to experience something that was out of my realm,” she said.

Hill will present on her internship on April 12 at the 14th annual Furman Engaged, a daylong celebration of students’ high-impact, immersive engaged learning experiences. The event, which is open to the community, will highlight the work of more than 700 students and include about 80 panel sessions, 200 research posters and 100 internships in the Gallery Walk. The experiences include undergraduate research, internships, study away, creative projects, service learning, first-year writing seminars and capstone experiences. View a listing of the presentations.

Hill conducted interviews to collect background information from incarcerated clients – their education, job, family, any prior criminal history. In each case, she worked with what she was given to write a report for the attorney and then attended the virtual bond hearing. The goal was to get clients released so they could both contribute to their defense and fulfill obligations to employers and families.

“Some people really just don’t have the resources that they need,” Hill said. “Helping at the forefront can really make a big difference.”

Some days she’d complete one interview, others she might do as many as four. Most were conducted over the phone, although she did visit jail once to meet with a client in person.

All the court appearances were virtual, but Hill still had plenty to observe and learn from.

“Each attorney had different ways that they talked to the judge, the phrasing,” she said.

And as for the judges, they “would do pretty much everything you would see on TV,” she said with a laugh.

Getting a client out on bond was rewarding.

“It felt good to know that I crafted something that could help somebody get out of jail,” Hill said. “Nobody can contribute from inside.”

After a hearing, Hill would write a summary of the proceedings for the client’s file.

Kelsey Hample, assistant professor of economics and Hill’s advisor, said there’s overlap between Hill’s summer work and her future goals.

“One thing that she’s especially interested in is the allocation of resources,” Hample said.

As a real estate lawyer, Hill will be able to help ensure fair access to housing.

And everything she learned last summer, from legalese to deadline work, will serve her well in law school, Hample said, “getting into the field and seeing how it’s actually done.”

While it’s not the most common pre-law major, economics is an outstanding starting point, Hample said.

“It gives them really good training in the careful, critical analysis that law school requires,” she said.


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