Monday, May 20, 2019
First: congrats on securing a legal internship! Just getting to this place proves your intelligence and drive. You have your foot in the door, and now is the time to do good work for your supervisor, learn about a new area of the law (while evaluating whether it’s for you), and earn a positive recommendation (or even a job)! The effort starts now.
One point you might find challenging is that you and your supervisor (not to mention your clients) may have different ideas about what working efficiently looks like—or even what the role of an intern entails. It’s always best to clarify in person if you have any concerns. Here is a list that can serve as a general guide to office etiquette and summer work. When in doubt, however, check with your supervisor.
- Always be on time. Clarify your start and end hours a few days before you begin the internship, and leave home early to make sure you make it there— even if traffic is horrible or you spill coffee on your new dress shirt.
- Speaking of dress shirts, dress for court on the first day unless your office has told you otherwise. Even if the office ends up being casual, it’s better to overshoot this mark than to undershoot it.
- Always be courteous and friendly to office support staff, as well as to your supervisors and fellow interns. Administrative staff were there before you arrived and will be there after the end of your internship. Their expertise and feedback can help you have a better experience.
- Always bring a notepad and pens to meetings with your supervisor(s), colleagues, and clients. If the matter is important enough to call a meeting about, it will be important remember what is discussed and decided—especially if it involves an assignment for you.
- Use situational awareness and courtesy when asking a supervisor or colleague to meet with you. Are they on the phone, typing furiously, and looking stressed? Is the door closed? It’s generally a good idea to knock on the doorframe and ask, “Is now a good time?” before just walking into someone’s office. If the door is closed, email and ask to schedule a time.
- You will often be asked to work on projects that are unfamiliar to you. When you first get an assignment, clarify as much as you can with your supervisor. Then make your best effort before you return with further questions. There is a balance here: no one wants to see you labor on your own only to find you were confused or didn’t have the information you needed to make real progress. On the other hand, you should try to find answers to your questions before running to your supervisor every five minutes. Try these resources as you begin your work:
- Online legal research databases (search relevant key terms, statutes, court rules, and cases)
- The office’s brief or motions bank (or the file of a similar case or project)
- Google or Wikipedia (if only as a start)
- Be friendly and be yourself, but also be cautious about using jokes to break the ice when you’re nervous. This is often when we make errors in judgement about what's appropriate under the circumstances.
- Most supervisors will not judge you for what you don’t know coming in, but coachability is key. Stay curious about how to improve. Always recognize the authority of your supervisor’s strategic and legal decisions, but don’t be afraid to ask for further feedback.
- Be very clear about your start and end dates, any vacation time, and your daily schedule. It’s best to have this conversation in person and then to confirm in email so your supervisor can have a record to refer to.
- Never discuss office or client matters with anyone outside the office. Even if it is positive, don’t post client news to social media without express permission from your supervisor.
- Likewise, strictly limit your time spent on social media or your phone during work hours. Never text or scroll during work meetings-- and beware of even having your phone out during a meeting (the temptation to check is often too much for all of us).
- Take advantage of every opportunity to join outside meetings, happy hour gatherings, and socials—especially if your supervisor suggests it. You will make contacts this summer who will become friends and colleagues for the rest of your career.
- Keep a journal. Even if this office or area of law won’t be where you build your career, enjoy it and integrate the lessons you learn into your life of practice.
- For far more detailed discussions of work habits, office etiquette, and internships, enroll in an Externship class at your law school.
Most of all, stay engaged and learn what you can this summer—and enjoy this time as much as you can!
Thursday, May 9, 2019
Continuing CLEA’s series of posts on social justice issues in clinical legal education, here is a post from Eve Rips, Policy & Legislation Clinical Teaching Fellow at Loyola University Chicago School of Law.
Since its founding in 2010, the Legislation & Policy Clinic at Loyola University Chicago has partnered with the Statewide Youth Advisory Board (SYAB) for the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services to help translate the policy priorities of young adults in foster care into legislative or administrative change. The SYAB is comprised of 14 to 21-year-old leaders from across Illinois who are interested in advocating at a state level for the wellbeing of their peers in the child welfare system. Starting in 2018, Clinic students have been working with the SYAB to help the group build their own policy agenda.
For students in the Clinic, the project presents a unique opportunity to get to learn first-hand about the issues that matter most to youth in the child welfare system. Students who participate in the project are continually blown away by the maturity and thoughtfulness displayed by Youth Advisory Board members, and by the extent to which the youth leaders prioritize the needs of future generations in making decisions. The project also provides students with the opportunity to learn by teaching: in reflecting on how best to convey complicated information to youth, Clinic students develop a deeper understanding of the material they themselves are learning.
Social justice is often discussed as both a process and an end goal. One of the biggest challenges for students working with the SYAB has been thinking through how to build a process that supports full and equitable participation of youth members. In particular, the project has required careful deliberation about the role of law and policy experts in working with youth leaders. Students have struggled with questions like:
● How can we present youth with data on topics they are interested in without inadvertently steering them toward our own vision for policy change?
● How should we move forward in helping youth leaders if the group wants to work on an issue that we think would be difficult to address through legislative or administrative change?
● What is the right balance between moving meeting agendas forward and giving youth leaders space to respond emotionally to topics that may be connected to personal trauma?
Students built out a deliberate and intensive process for helping the SYAB set their policy agenda. In Spring of 2018, students sat down with youth members to discuss questions and concerns about the laws and policies that impact the lives of youth in care. Those conversations led to the creation of a Frequently Asked Questions Guide for the SYAB, which provided answers to top questions and identified areas where new laws or policies might be needed. In Fall of 2018, students discussed the Guide with youth members, and led a brainstorm focused on asking “what would a better world look like?" Students used what they learned from that discussion to build a list of open-ended “questions to consider” for SYAB members, such as “how can the Department of Children and Family Services better ensure that youth preparing to age out of care can afford to live on their own?” and “what would youth want interactions with their guardians ad litem to look like, ideally?” Finally, in Spring of 2019, students met several times with a small “working group” of SYAB members to workshop policy ideas and finalize a list of potential priorities that they brought back to the full Youth Advisory Board for a vote.
Clinic students stressed that the project required high levels of flexibility and patience in learning how to engage meaningfully with young leaders. Meetings changed times frequently, students started researching one topic only to find youth attention shifted by the next meeting, and many felt that the project moved slowly. When considering her experience working with the SYAB, Patricia Martin, a current 2L, reflected that, “things can take longer when you work with youth. These are sensitive subjects that affect their peers - that sometimes meant we got off topic or struggled to think about when to cut off emotional discussions. But I think this is reflective of how policy making happens in reality, especially when you’re working with others to narrow priorities to an agenda.”
In the end, though, students felt the experience taught them a unique and critical set of skills related to how to be a thoughtful policy partner to populations with experiences very different from their own. Justin Sia, also a current 2L, explained, “the project helped me build my skills in empathy. The more I met with the youth, the more I understood what works in connecting with this group.” Ultimately, Sia reflected, “being an advocate involves working to get on the same page, stepping into their shoes, and thinking carefully about how to make information as accessible as possible.”
We want to hear from you! Are you working on something exciting, innovative, or interesting that advances social justice goals? Know someone who is?
Saturday, May 4, 2019
A bell rang. I recognized it immediately as an old handheld school bell. But I was sitting in a courtroom. It made no sense.
It was in one of the most depressing courtrooms in which I have practiced with my students—mortgage foreclosure diversion court. It is a huge courtroom in an upper floor of City Hall in Philadelphia, big enough to fit over 100 people threatened with losing their home to foreclosure at one time. They sit in rows of hard wooden chairs in the center and back of the courtroom, all facing forward, uncertain of what court will mean for them that day. Each of them are now identified as debtors. Foreclosure proceedings have already been filed against them. To one side of them sit reluctant attorneys for banks and other mortgage lenders, required by the court to be there and to consider deals that will allow the debtors to stay. On another side sit housing counselors, hoping to piece together deals for the debtors using the few resources that the debtors have and that the counselors can find from outside sources. Around the outside walls sit nonprofit law firms, offering help when they can. In the front is a judicial bench, which is particularly huge due to the size of the courtroom and which towers over litigants, and many desks for court staff. The judge will not come—there is little reason for debtors to think that a judge will intervene for them at this stage. Debtors know this, as their cases are often not resolved until they have come back to this court several different days over some months, asking each time for more of a chance to find a way to settle the debt. A judge will sign off if needed. Besides, few debtors have legal arguments that will work. On this day like others, there is constant chatter in this cavernous room as cases are processed—some people learning they’ll never be able to keep their home, others given a month or two to come up with other resources.
And then, the bell rang.
At a central table, the bell ringer smiled as she looked around. Some others smiled, too, knowing what that bell meant: a deal had been reached. Maybe the mortgage had been renegotiated or the debtor had been able to catch up on the delinquency. Somehow, a debtor would keep the home. Victory for all, unless the debtor falls behind again. A happy ending, perhaps, in a court that belongs more in a Dickens novel than 21st century Philadelphia and where victories are not as common as they should be. The bell ringer smiled and moved on to the next foreclosure case.
I was reminded of this experience as I watched a similar celebration on video at a fundraiser for our local center for independent living. These centers exist to support people who have disabilities that might require nursing home care without the support services these centers find for them that allow them to stay in their homes. Among other people with disabilities they serve are people in nursing homes who they help return to the community, finding them the homes and services they need to do so. Despite the person often not having the $5000-6500 it takes to physically move someone into the community, and despite a lack of affordable housing (particularly accessible affordable housing), center workers struggle and sometimes succeed in reintegrating these people into happier independent living situation in the community. And as the video showed, when they do, they walk the halls of the agency cheering and ringing a bell. It looks and sounds like the same bell. They celebrate what they have accomplished.
With my law students, I often want to foster such celebration and don't know how. We work on cases in our clinic and often see so much that is wrong, some of which students can help make right and some of which they can’t. We work with people with severe disabilities denied government disability benefits—perhaps students help them win them benefits, perhaps not. Student watch people being evicted from their homes that landlords manage to control despite keeping them in substandard conditions—perhaps students help get this landlord to fix up their property or help tenants leave on their own terms, or perhaps we watch the more common seemingly unfair and unjust outcomes of tenants losing their homes and being saddled with debt that will preclude them from renting elsewhere. Students draft documents for people sick with terminal diseases thinking through end of life decisions with students who know the documents will be used soon—perhaps we give these people peace of mind, and perhaps we get to see the documents in action.
There needs to be time to stop and recognize victories. Bells must be rung. It is easy to see that for each win, there are many losses. But we must hear the bells. The question is how?
As I sit with my students now after victories, I ask them to reflect on the victory. I have them think about what they did and how they impacted change. I have them think about their clients’ lives with and what would have happened without our representation. After our losses, we do the same, though losses need no marker—they seem to stick with us more easily. How can I make victories not only meaningful but joyous celebrations?
I have no bell. Perhaps I need one.