Simona Popova smiled. It was the sort of smile a mother shows when her child walks his first step. But her expression was not for either of her sons – it was for herself.
This semester, Popova, a third-year student at Miami Law, is one of nine legal interns at the Florida Supreme Court in Tallahassee. "I love being here," Popova said while taking a break from the bustle of the courthouse, where she works in the chambers of Justice Peggy A. Quince.
During her internship, she has learned much about criminal law and has analyzed issues surrounding several death penalty cases. One part of her job is to summarize arguments and determine whether or not the court has jurisdiction over a case as defined in Article Five of the Florida Constitution. She said the opportunity has been invaluable. "I feel I'm going to leave this place in November with excellent writing skills and a great experience."
To prepare for court sessions, Popova reads the cases beforehand and, once in court, seems riveted by oral arguments. "I've never seen that before, live," she said, smiling again.
At age 36, Popova has already lived a full life. Born in Bulgaria, she immigrated to Texas at 17 after a successful audition for a spot as a pianist at Baylor University. After college, she began a career as a music teacher, and then taught at American schools in Paraguay, Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia, where her oldest son, now 10, was born. The other boy, who is 7, was born in Thailand.
"I don't believe in boundaries – I think everything is possible," she said, her mixed, gentle accent a product of her eclectic background. It was only a matter of time, she said, before a new dream emerged: she decided to attend law school.
"Law has been my desire since I was very young," she said. "I really truly believe in our justice system and in our government."
Since beginning law school in 2009, Popova has worked in several positions around the Miami area. During the summer of her first year, she received a fellowship through the Center for Ethics and Public Service to work with the Renters Education and Advocacy Legal Lines at the Legal Service of Greater Miami, Inc.
The following year, she began an externship with the Miami-Dade School Board, where she worked on constitutional issues regarding the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Then, she became a law clerk for a civil litigation law firm in Coral Gables.
"Simona's passion for life and incredible work ethic is evident in everything she does," Lecturer in Law Jan Jacobowitz said. "Whether she is playing the piano at a PREP [Professional Responsibility and Ethics Program] potluck dinner, writing a memorandum on a complex constitutional issue for the ADL [Anti-Defamation League], or presenting a legal ethics training to public interest lawyers, Simona's performance is top notch."
While Popova is not sure where she will end up, she is certain that for now her career will remain focused on the legal life. After graduation, she plans to remain at Miami Law, where she has been accepted into its Tax LL.M. program for the fall of 2012.