First Encounter

Natalia '20
I’m immediately greeted by the sun as I walk up concrete stairs. I trade the New York City subway for brick buildings in the Bronx. “Follow me!” a voice shouts in the background but the sunshine in my eyes doesn’t let me put a face to the sound. I rely on my classmates in front of me to lead me through this foreign land. They lead me up the steps and down a sidewalk where a beige building with gold trims catches my attention. Our navigator, Scott Levy, a public defender with The Bronx Defenders, points on the gold trimmed building and tells us that this the courthouse that handles lawsuits.

I hadn’t been interested in law until this year. I had had so many fruitful Harkness discussions in history class that I decided to look into law as a potential career. I fidget with my “School of the New York Times” lanyard as we enter the Courthouse. My first encounter with America’s judicial branch begins.

I had found out about the School of The New York Times through The Lawrence. The Editor-in- Chief of the paper sent all writers a link to the website and immediately I was intrigued.

Back to the Bronx! As we stood outside the courthouse, School of The New York Times instructor Bert Nieslanik (a criminal defense lawyer from Colorado), told my class that it seemed like a quiet day for lawsuits, as the building looked empty. This courthouse only handles misdemeanors and lower level felonies but I’m still bubbling with excitement at the prospect of witnessing the organized chaos of our justice system.

After passing through a short security line, my class heads into the courtroom. It is open and benches line the walls. It’s not even 11:00 a.m. but the waiting area is full. People from all walks of life are waiting for their public defender and hearing. Levy takes us to the back of the waiting area and sets some ground rules though he doesn’t tell us anything about what cases we’ll see. He wants it to be a “surprise.” After a ten minute briefing, he separates us into two groups. One will go into the misdemeanor court and the other will observe small felony hearings. I head into the misdemeanor court and from the moment I entered I saw it was chaos.

Public defenders stated their client’s plea to the judge after the prosecutors stated their charge. The judge listened intently before giving a sentence. The charges and sentences varied from person to person. Someone could be charged with possession of marijuana and only be fined while another person could be sentenced a fine and probation. It all depended on the case.

I was only in that courtroom for 15 minutes but about five different defendants went up to the judge and pleaded guilty. I was surprised by how many cases were closed in such a short amount of time.

My group made its way to the felony court and witnessed a similar situation, however, with more severe charges. We spent about 20 minutes in the felony court before we went to the waiting area and debriefed. Everyone wanted to know more, with questions about everything from procedures to sentencing. It was a mini Harkness discussion in the middle of a courthouse! Levy and Nieslanik were happy to answer all our questions. Even after our debriefing and after lunch, my group couldn’t stop talking about everything that we’d seen. My mind was still processing the day as a I returned home.


I went to the School of the New York Times with the purpose of exploring different career options. Throughout my sophomore year, conversations with friends and Harkness discussions about certain laws and events encouraged me to look into careers that are involved change and news.

I feel that it is time for me to start narrowing in on possible careers.This program allowed me to look at three fields: law, international relations, and journalism. I have always been interested in journalism and my interest has only grown at Lawrenceville.

I wrote for the “First Amendment” (the School’s political magazine) this year and discovered a interest in politics. My interest in law and international relations stemmed from my Forces that Shape the Modern World class and the School of the New York Times allowed me to combine some of my interests into one course. I found something I liked in each field and learned so much in the process.

The program not only gave me great information but memories for years. I met so many amazing people and explored New York City in a way I had never been able to before. My first encounter with New York City and America’s judicial branch was pretty incredible and made for a memorable two weeks.
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Through House and Harkness, Lawrenceville challenges a diverse community of promising young people to lead lives of learning, integrity, and high purpose.  Our mission is to inspire the best in each to seek the best for all.