Sarah Elkins, 32, has a tough job — she’s a public defender in Baltimore, a lawyer appointed to represent people accused of a crime who couldn’t otherwise afford one.
A Detroit native, Elkins graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in women’s studies and followed up with law school at Michigan State. After a stint in Arizona, she ended up in Maryland, where’s she’s happily started to put down roots for the past six years.
Outside of her legal day job, Elkins has embraced the local Jewish community. She’s currently a part of the Baltimore Jewish Council Leadership Development Program and a connector for Charm City Tribe. And, as if she needed more to do, she and her fiancé, Pikesville native Doni Grossman, are preparing for their upcoming wedding.
How did you end up in Baltimore?
After law school, I moved to Arizona and was working out there. I just wasn’t happy being in the desert and away from water. I see a lot of live music and do a lot of work at music festivals, and there wasn’t a lot of that there. So, I made it to the East Coast, where there’s easy access to a lot of states and music and water and seasons. I had some friends out here, and I’ve been in Maryland since 2011.
What’s it like being a public defender here?
It’s busy. It’s very rewarding and it’s very hectic, but it’s important and it feels like I’m doing important work and that’s something that I really love about the job. It’s different every day. There are always new issues that come up — legal issues to research, things to argue. And I love to argue. I try to convince people that I’m right, so this is a good job for me to do that. But really, the work is important. We’re the only people that stand between the mighty power of the state and people who are charged with crimes.
That must be tiring. What keeps you motivated?
What keeps me motivated is that I do things that are non-legal also. So, I am working very hard at work, but then am also doing things for me that aren’t work related — seeing a lot of live music, [being] involved in the Jewish community here. It’s helpful to have a work-life balance. And I’m planning a wedding right now — we’re getting married Labor Day weekend. So, you know, I’m just staying busy and focusing on things that are exciting in my personal life, and then, when I get to the office, I can focus on things that are exciting in my work life.
What are those exciting things in your work life?
One thing that is new to me is doing jury trials. There’s just nothing like it. I’ve been doing trial work for years, but I just started doing trials in front of juries instead of judges. It’s exhilarating, exciting. You have be “on” all the time and juggle a lot of moving parts — talking to your clients, gauging what the jury’s reactions are, discussing things with the judge, listening to what the witnesses are saying, formulating questions. Waiting for the jury to come back is …
Well, there’s nothing you can do. It’s out of your hands. You just have to sit around the court in case they call you in. I would love to be on a jury panel. I would love to know what goes on back there.
Why is it important to you to be involved with the local Jewish community?
Growing up, I was a member of BBYO, an active member of NFTY as well, went to Jewish summer camps. So, it’s always been an important part of my life. And part of me has always wanted to do some work in a leadership role in the Jewish community, so I have always kept one foot there. And I like that Charm City Tribe is not a synagogue. It doesn’t require me to commit monetarily, and it’s accessible to people across the spectrum of Judaism. It was very welcoming — more social and cultural than religious, and that was up my alley.
Also, Doni and I have a lot of crossover in terms of friends. So, I really wanted to do something that was separate from him — my own thing, my own people. [Doni and I] do everything together, so it’s nice to have something that’s mine.