Local law student nearing completion of inaugural student lawyer program with county
WORTHINGTON — Worthington-native Mariah Haffield is putting what she’s learned in the classroom to practice in the courtroom.
A 2012 graduate of Worthington High School, Haffield is the first student lawyer at the Nobles County Attorney’s Office.
“It’s a really good opportunity and experience,” Haffield said.
After completing her first year at the University of Nebraska College of Law in Lincoln, Neb., Haffield began as a law clerk at the Nobles County Attorney’s Office in mid-May. She became a certified student attorney two weeks after and is a practicing law student under Minnesota’s Student Practice Rules.
Under supervision by Nobles County Attorney Kathleen Kusz, Haffield has been able to gain exposure and experience in a variety of settings. She has had the opportunity to try her hand at court hearings, court trials, contested omnibus hearings and memos, jury trials and child support trials, and has also been involved in commitments and forfeitures.
“Pretty much anything the office is involved in I’ve at least been able to observe,” she said.
The position provides her mentorship and resources to inquire and learn how the attorneys handle cases.
“Which is really great, because I know I would not have that exposure otherwise to these different aspects of law,” she said. “I’ve already learned new ways of thinking.”
Becoming a student lawyer at the Nobles County Attorney’s Office was a natural transition for Haffield, who is in her seventh year working at the office in some capacity.
She began in 2011 after her high school’s mock trial adviser and then county attorney, Gordon Moore, sparked an initial interest. Moore is now the Fifth Judicial District Judge.
Haffield realized a career in law was worth pursuing as she continued working for the office as a summer assistant while an undergraduate student at Minnesota State University, Mankato.
“I’ve always loved to talk and argue and read and write, so it seemed to be a natural fit for me,” she said.
Despite five years of post-secondary education, there are some things that just can’t be learned in the classroom, Haffield said.
“A lot of the classroom (material) is more theoretical,” she said.
So, being able to get into the courtroom and practice with real cases has been invaluable, she said.
“There’s something completely different about writing out your questions and thinking about how things are going to go in your head and standing up there in front of the judge, defense attorney and defendant and having to speak what you wanted to say and having everything work out,” she said.
While she certainly does not consider herself an expert, Haffield said she is more confident in the courtroom from her first experience at the beginning of the summer, when she said she was shaky and tripped over her words.
Nobles County Assistant County Attorney Braden Hoefert, who Haffield has been working closely with throughout the summer, agreed.
“She’s definitely very eager to learn,” Hoefert said. “She’s picked it up and pretty much does it herself.”
According to Kusz, one of the purposes of the new student lawyer position is to introduce law students to rural practice.
“We wanted to try and be of assistance for local students going to law school and get some interest from students that may not consider staying out here in the boonies to stay,” she said.
The program is funded by the county, a line item in the Nobles County Attorney’s Office budget.
Haffield’s last day is Aug. 11. Kusz said informal conversations within the office indicate that the first summer has been successful and they hope to continue the program.
Haffield said she is grateful to the Nobles County Attorney’s Office for giving her the opportunity and hopes that the student lawyer program continue.
“I know not many individuals have that opportunity right after their first year of law school — so just having this — I cannot thank the office enough for being able to do so much in the courtroom,” she said. “The experience I’ve gained this summer I think will make me a better attorney had I not had this opportunity.”