By Tim O’Hair
Kampala was much of what was expected and much more of what was not. The internship itself was quite slow—this seemed to be the result of either a cultural difference or just the system in place. Culturally, it was difficult to establish a solid set of procedures for approaching the judges. We didn’t want to bombard them and further their chaotic schedule by asking for work every few hours and force them to find something for us to do, but on the other hand we knew that the judges weren’t going to come to us. Our attempt at a daily morning meeting quickly proved futile because the judges had busy but unpredictable schedules (including international travel). Systematically, there simply may not have been much work to do as an intern in the Anti-Corruption Court despite the vast case-backlog. Legal research (an intern’s specialty) seems sparsely used because there is no good legal research database or library. To the extent that legal research was done for the cases judges are currently handling, the work product was all verbal and informal discussion in the judge’s chambers. We did get one assignment that required extensive research; we created a case-law manual (or quick reference guide) for the most prevalent causes of action in the Anti-Corruption court. To create this, we compiled case law from several different countries to help better interpret the different “ingredients” of crimes.
The prison project was amazing—I wish it lasted 8 weeks instead of 1. Interviewing prisoners and hearing the first-person account of their crime colored in the watered down fact patterns found in their indictments and was a reality check to the clean fact patterns we practice with in law school. Extracting information from the prisoner, identifying inconsistencies, then developing a story all seemed to hinge on one crucial factor: rapport. This was real lawyering and I quickly learned that just walking into a prison with a suit and tie on wasn’t enough for the person to trust you in revealing the incriminating details of the most shameful, embarrassing, and difficult event of many of their lives. It took patience and difficult questioning (for all of us) to develop this rapport and in many instances the time-drive just wouldn’t allow sufficient time with each prisoner. This was my first hack at doing what I expect to do as an actual attorney and it was eye opening.
Being in Kampala was good; I’m absolutely ready to leave, but I wouldn’t ask to take my time back either. Kampala provided knowledge about things that I’m probably unaware I even learned and it has most certainly changed me. It was an experience that went beyond seeing tourist attractions or beautiful countryside; it was actually living among the culture that educated me. I’ve become comfortable on a motorcycle; my communication skills have improved exponentially (I’ve learned to communicate with facial expressions, body language, and how to strip complex language/slang down to a common understanding), and I have a better understanding of being in unfamiliar places and around unfamiliar people. Things like learning to live without a cell phone when I go out or sticking out wherever I go because I look completely different from everyone else are experiences I can’t get at home. Some things are hard to pinpoint or quantify but I have been affected by Kampala, I think for the better, and I’m glad I got the experience.
In summation, I’m ready to be home—I’m counting the hours. It has nothing to do with Kampala, it is just the nature of missing home and the things and people (and dogs) that are all there. I’ve learned so much on this trip. I gained real lawyering skills and found strengths and weaknesses in my legal skills to improve upon before graduating and becoming credentialed—that was worth the price of admission in itself. While the internship was slow, the past 2-months confirmed that law school was the right decision for me. More broadly, I now better understand a different culture and part of the world. The trip was a success.