W&J junior Sydney Hirst stands and smiles.

Courtroom Calling: Internship with public defender leads W&J junior to greater love of law

Created: March 23, 2022  |  Last Updated: April 29, 2022  |  Category:   |  Tagged: , ,

WASHINGTON, PA (March 23, 2022)—W&J junior Sydney Hirst may not be a student athlete, but after spending the summer in the Westmoreland County Public Defender’s Office, she knows how to run the court. Or rather, the courtroom.

Last spring, the political science and gender & women’s studies double major reached out to Westmoreland County Chief Public Defender Wayne McGrew on the recommendation of a friend and, after accepting an offer to intern with the lawyer and his associates, spent the summer months getting a behind-the-scenes look at her local legal system.

“I absolutely, 100% enjoyed it,” Hirst said. “I was able to see so much and learn so much, just from the different attorneys that I was able to follow around. The office is full of more than ten attorneys, and I was with a different one every single day.”

Working with different attorneys meant working on different tasks, and Hirst did a bit of everything, consulting with and interviewing clients, reading case files, developing case theory, observing everyday court proceedings like jury selections and trials, and attending the county’s weekly drug court program—something that deeply impacted her.

“I got to see these people who committed a crime—who had serious addictions—get better and learn how to acclimate back into the real world and become super successful,” said the SGA class representative. “It was just really nice to see.”

And apparently inspiring.

Though Hirst—the president of Advocates for Sexual Assault Prevention (ASAP) at W&J and a member of the National Society for Leadership and Success (NSLS)—has always wanted to be a lawyer, working in the public defender’s office and attending drug court cemented that goal.

“I definitely want to become a criminal defense attorney,” Hirst said, noting that she’d like to practice locally and serve her community. “There’s always something happening, there’s always people that need help, and I really want to be the person that can help people.”

With family and the College behind her, she’s certain that she will be.

“They’ve been so supportive throughout everything, and I’m just thankful to have them,” Hirst said of her parents and grandparents, whom she credits for much of her success. “And with my internship and my experience at W&J, I feel like I’m really prepared to take on a life outside of academia.”

That’s somewhat thanks to another type of family—one that she founded here.

“At W&J, we are a tight-knit community,” Hirst said. “We all want to see one another succeed.”

About Washington & Jefferson College

Washington & Jefferson College, proudly located in Washington, Pa., is a historic liberal arts college founded in 1781 that values ethical leadership, professional readiness, and inclusive communities. Our highly customized and intellectually engaging student experience develops professionals of uncommon integrity to lead in an ever-changing world. For more information about W&J, visit www.washjeff.edu or call 888-W-AND-J.