Devendre Sukhnandan has his eye on criminal law.
The Schenectady High School student is already planning on law school, so he signed up to attend a two-hour panel discussion in the middle of the school day Wednesday to listen to attorneys talk about their jobs.
The panel was moderated by Schenectady County Supreme Court Judge Vincent Reilly. As he got attorneys to describe how hard the bar exam really is, and how difficult some of the specialties are, Sukhnandan was listening closely.
District Attorney Robert Carney told the students frankly that many prosecutors have difficulty handling the stress of high-stakes trials.
“It’s not for everybody,” he said. “Most people who do this have some issues over time. I, for one, have trouble sleeping at the start of a trial.”
Reilly said 20 percent of those in the legal profession struggle with substance abuse. That’s twice as high as the rate in the general population.
“I have to warn you, it’s a potential downfall if you don’t manage your stress,” he said.
But Carney added that criminal law is worth it.
“It’s psychically rewarding,” he said, adding that there’s no feeling like that of protecting society by getting a dangerous criminal sent to prison.
“I love what I do,” he said. “It is endlessly rewarding.”
Attorney and county Legislator Robert Hoffman said there were other choices for those who didn’t like the stress of trials.
He didn’t like defending people because, often, they went to prison.
“And you’re expected to go back to work. That’s hard,” he said. “I moved my practice to what I call ‘Happy Law.’ ”
He specializes in real estate, estate planning and other civil matters.
Sukhnandan was among dozens of students who asked to attend the panel, most of them because they are considering a career in law.
He said afterward that he was still convinced he should become a lawyer, but he didn’t know if he preferred Carney’s prosecutory job or Hoffman’s happy law.
“I know I want to be a lawyer, but I didn’t know what kind of lawyer, and I still don’t,” he said.
He said he eliminated one possibility: family law. He was shaken by the attorneys’ descriptions of divorce cases.
“It’s very hard to separate kids from the parents,” he said.
He’s leaning toward working as a prosecutor.
“I could work well under pressure,” he said.
He and his classmates listened to the panelists with rapt attention. They asked few questions, although one student was bold enough to ask Reilly whether marijuana should be legal.
He said he could only answer as a judge, and that the law was clear. Possession and sale of marijuana are illegal.
But most students focused on how attorneys handle the pressure of their job — from going to law school to arguing a trial.
They walked away certain of one thing: It isn’t easy.
“It takes a lot of work,” student Chad Ramlal said. “It was very interesting.”
He was impressed by Assistant Attorney General Nancy Snyder, who offered an inspirational lecture on the value of jury duty at the end of the event.
She said some people ask to be excused from the jury pool because they would find it “difficult” to hear a case about murder or child abuse.
“You find it difficult? I certainly hope so,” she said. “It’s against the law for a reason. I’m just asking that you not be afraid to deal with a difficult and personally painful subject.”
She added that they would be fulfilling an essential role in society.
“Remember, someday you or a loved one will need the services of a jury. You don’t want to be left with people who don’t care whether they’re sitting on a jury or not,” she said. “Look on it as a privilege and an opportunity.”
Ramlal was convinced.
“I hope I get chosen on a jury,” he said.