Niyyah Bilal Hayes: Public Defender Intern

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Abby McHenry

Niyyah Bilal Hayes, a senior at Florida Southern, is interning at the Public Defender’s office at the District 10 Courthouse in Bartow, Florida.

Some of Bilal Hayes’s tasks include organizing evidence files for cases, observing  jury trials not open to the public and observing interviews when people come in from arraignments or first appearance. She said the ‘coolest’ part of her internship so far has been going into the field with one of the investigators and visiting Property & Evidence, and seeing photos be taken of evidence for a case. She also went to Babson Park, about  half an hour from the courthouse, and sat in on an interview of a witness for a client.

Bilal Hayes has worked at many campus jobs and knows how to be professional, but still feels that her internship has helped her grow in that area. 

“I’m already a pretty extroverted person..but [the internship] has helped me hone my professional skills because you can’t really crack the same jokes,” Bilal Hayes said. “I can’t really be ‘school Niyyah’ in my office.”

Bilal Hayes is looking forward to working with We Care, a social service organization in Lakeland and Polk County that gives mental health services to inmates and people in jail. In the next couple weeks, she will go to local jails to observe interviews. 

Bilal Hayes interns Tuesday and Thursdays from nine in the morning until four in the afternoon and it has made her realize what her priorities are. It has also made her more aware that she will have to work a “nine to five” job after graduation.

“Juggling all of that [the internship] with school is a lot,” Bilal Hayes said. “ [The most difficult part is] going there all day, being there all day, and coming back and working here on campus.”

Bilal Hayes said she found her internship through her senior seminar class when Nancy Cobb, Chief Investigator at the courthouse, spoke to the class. She was inspired by the Chief Investigator and reached out to her about interning. 

Cobb initially said no because she reserves the position for a first-year law student. A week later however, she got Bilal Hayes’s internship approved by the elected public defender.

Bilal Hayes said it is going to be difficult getting dedicated to the office and the people she works with and then leaving. She is pursuing a degree in Psychology and Criminology and a minor in Spanish. She will miss seeing her friends but is ready to go to graduate school and move on with her career. 

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