For Christopher Reid '07, practicing law is not about winning. It’s about a search for truth and a desire for a more just world.

A prosecutor for the Lancaster County Attorney’s Office in Lincoln, Reid recently guest lectured in a History and Systems of Psychology class at YC. The class looks at the myriad ways a psychology degree could be employed, from human services, to research, to the legal field. Many in the classroom were psychology or criminal justice majors.  

Reid started at York College as a biblical studies major, but changed to psychology after field experience opportunities led him to volunteering with CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates), a group that works with children in the legal system. After he graduated from YC, he spent a year working at Epworth Village in York, a group home for boys in the juvenile court system, before attending law school at the University of Nebraska Lincoln.   

When Reid was a student at YC, there was no pre-law degree available, but he told students he felt just as prepared for law school as many of his UNL classmates who came into the program with a more specialized degree. “This place prepares you very well for going on to higher education, whether its law school or something else. Small class sizes like this are key,” he said, gesturing to the room of 20 students.  

For those that are interested in pursuing law school, he suggested that they take a class or do other special prep work before taking the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). Law school usually takes three years to complete, then you must be certified by the state bar association, a process that involves two days of exams plus a character review. “The Bar is very concerned with integrity,” as a lawyer will be responsible for caring for the legal needs of people in vulnerable circumstances, he told students. If there is any indication you might take advantage of a client, it may be difficult to obtain a license to practice law.

After all that schooling and testing, there’s a new hurdle to overcome. “You have a licence but no idea how to actually practice law until you’re doing it,” said Reid, with a laugh.

As a law student at UNL, he clerked for the Lancaster County Attorney’s Office and loved it. After graduation, he worked for a private law office for two years before going back to work for the county, where he’s now been for five years. He worked for several years in the juvenile courts before moving to his current role specializing in prosecuting crimes involving domestic violence.

A psychology degree was very helpful preparation for his current role, as he works closely with the Department of Health and Human Services and much of the lingo and concepts he needs to know to be good at his job are rooted in the psychology world. That road goes both ways, he told the psychology students. “If you are planning to go into human services, chances are you are going to have clients that will come into contact with the justice system in one way or another….Even if you’re not planning to practice law, it’s important for you to know how to navigate the system to best serve your clients,” he told students.

An estimated 20 percent of people in prison deal with mental illness, from depression, to bipolar disorder and trauma-related disorders, Reid said. The current trend in the justice system is an increasing focus on community support solutions and alternatives to incarceration for this population. Once again, a background in psychology is really helpful in a legal setting. “A lot of people who commit crimes have a history of trauma,” said Reid. A key to reducing future crime is to address and treat these traumas.

He talked to students about the preparation required for law school as well as the rigors of a career in the legal field. He also gave students an overview of the criminal court system and talked about what his day to day workload, from reading police reports, to interviewing victims, to court appearances. It’s challenging work, both mentally and emotionally. Reid told students about a particularly difficult case involving a parent abusing an infant. While the man ultimately was acquitted of any wrongdoing in the criminal court, a separate juvenile court found his actions egregious enough to permanently terminate his parental rights to the child. 

“In cases like that, isn’t it hard to control your emotions?” a student asked Reid.

Of course it is, said Reid, however it’s his job to remain objective, gather evidence, and trust that the legal system will do what it was created to do.

Reid showed students a clip from Youtube--security camera footage that showed a well known baseball player repeatedly striking his girlfriend in a stairwell. It was hard to watch, and that was his point. “Sometimes this work is very heavy. You’re going to be exposed to things you’re not going to be emotionally prepared to handle.” Many lawyers deal with this emotional stress through alcohol abuse and other unhealthy coping behaviors. Reid says he practices good self-care by building things and working with his hands in his non-work hours.

“You need to be grounded and know why you do what you do,” he told students. What’s his why? Faith. “Working as a lawyer is striving for ‘shalom’,” he told students, defining ‘shalom’ as a state of universal flourishing, a society where we put the needs of others above our own. “This is a fallen world,” he told students, “but we are vessels of shalom.”

There are also moments of grace and celebration amidst all of the turmoil. “When you help somebody get justice, it’s a pretty cool feeling,” he said.