August 18, 2015 | By Jake Weber
Most of the time, in-home guardianship assessments "go smoothly, with no red flag," says Kristine Baker, '16. When they don't, things can get intense very quickly. "The first time I testified in court was an emergency hearing involving parents abusing a child," Baker recalls. "There was another home I went to where there were bedbugs and a fire alarm going off. We have standard questions to ask, but in a situation like this I had to ask different questions, such as 'Does anyone help you take care of your home?'"
Ensuring the safety of society's most vulnerable members is often a legal matter, and this summer some of that work was handled by Baker through an internship with Ingham County Probate Court. Focused on cases involving young children and legally incapacitated adults, Baker visited homes "to make sure that the individual is happy and properly cared for. Then I wrote a report stating if the guardianship should be continued or not. I also worked on delinquency cases dealing with people who have been late on turning in their paperwork. I reviewed the case and then presented it in front of a judge and testified on record."
Another big part of Baker's internship took place in the courtroom. "Speaking in front of a judge seemed terrifying at first, but it's become almost second nature to me now," says Baker.
One challenge of testifying in probate court, Baker discovered, is being ready for its speed. "A probate court case tends to last between one and four minutes. The shortest one I have seen lasted a whole 15 seconds, and the longest one took almost 30 minutes," Baker says. "You have to know what you are going to say. Some judges like their courtrooms to be a bit more relaxed, but other judges are very strict and if you don't know exactly what you're going to say when you go up there, you will be called out."
Still, as one of only two undergraduates in an office full of graduate student interns, Baker is confident she rose to the challenges. "My education at Albion prepared me in ways that I did not even know until I started my internship," she says. "Doing good work under pressure and getting through things quickly and effectively are critical to my schoolwork, and just as valuable on the job."
"I learned what a lawyer and a judge actually do every day. I learned what it takes to become a lawyer as well," Baker concluded. "I now know what to do in order to apply to law schools, and I now know that I can apply to even higher-ranked law schools as well. This internship made me feel empowered that I can go above and beyond what I had originally thought I could, and achieve goals I didn't even know I had."