How I Spent My Summer Vacation ...
Since Katrina hit in 2005, one of the vital resources that has become a strong part of The Project's efforts to serve the needy in the metro area are law students. They come from law school across the country to help out our clients. In exchange, The Project provides them hands-on experience that is often hard to come by for students and young associates. This summer is no different. Law students inhabited The Project's office during June and July, and here, in their own words, is how they spent their summer vacation and why they wouldn't trade the experience for anything.
Working for Wages...
Ronald Avila and Sarah Hechtman both came through the Loyola Law School Gillis Long Poverty Law Center Fellow Program. The two students spent the summer with staff attorney
|Ronald getting ready in the conference room at The Project|
Vanessa Spinazola working at the Wage Claim Clinic, doing legal research, helping to prepare litigation documents, and actually meeting and working with clients.
"Throughout the summer, I worked with Ms. Spinazola at the Wage Claim Clinic helping workers to write demand letters and prepare litigation for wage claims. I also had the opportunity to do some legislative advocacy work. The feedback and support I received from Ms. Spinazola throughout is invaluable to me as I continue my studies, " explains Ronald Avila, a 2L from Loyola.
|Sarah working on wage claims|
Sarah Hechtman, also a 2L from Loyola Law couldn't agree more.
"Through this process, I have learned about Federal and Louisiana law regarding employment practices and workers remedies to recover unpaid wages. This has allowed me to improve my legal research skills and see the practical application. I have also learned to adapt to the changing needs and strategies of a case. Working here has taught me about the problems facing low-wage workers and about some of the practical challenges in building an effective case," explained Sarah.
Both students agree that through their experience they now have an understanding of a new area of the law and some "practical lawyering skills."
Cooper Fournet also came to The Project through Loyola Law School's Gillis Long Poverty Law Center Fellow Program. But unlike his cohorts, Cooper had his eye set on working in one area: Successions. He got the chance when he attended a presentation by area public interest law firms and organizations for possible internships. The Project's Becky Stallard was there making a pitch for a Succession internship with staff attorney Christopher Coty.
|Cooper taking a break from successions to smile for the camera|
"I had recently begun talking to my friends and family about a possibility of doing successions, wills and estate planning as a career after law school and so the availability of this internship seemed extremely fortuitous," said Cooper, a 3L from Loyola. After interviewing with Chris and realizing that this was a perfect match, he accepted the job on the spot.
"My goal for the job was to learn how to handle smaller successions so I could have a thorough understanding of the basics. Then I could build on that experience and move on to handling larger and more complicated successions after law school. From the first day I was working hands-on with succession cases and the first thing that struck me was that I was finally applying things that I had learned in law school to real world situations," explained Cooper.
In addition to the practical experience Cooper got, the internship turned out to be a stepping-stone to his dream job. He recently received a call to interview at a firm he knew very little about and decided to polish his interview skills. As he continued the story, " In an amazing stroke of luck, it turned out that the majority of their practice was in doing successions. Needless to say, my experience at The Pro Bono Project definitely looked good to them. They offered me the job and I immediately accepted."
Because of his experiences at The Project, Cooper is now one step closer to accomplishing his goal of being able to do succession work fulltime as an attorney in private practice.
Loyola Law student, Sarah Fontenot had just completed her first year at law school when she received the offer to intern at The Project for 10 weeks this summer.
"I was eager to put my newfound knowledge to use and hopeful that I would gain more knowledge and experience throughout the summer. This was my first experience in the world of legal services and although I was not sure what to expect, I knew that I would end my summer having gained more knowledge and understanding than what I started the summer with," laughed Sarah.
|Zakiya and Sarah working for families|
Sarah spent much of her 10 weeks working with The Project's paralegal, Zakiya LaGrange, on Family Law cases, mostly uncontested divorces. One of her main responsibilities was to assist Zakiya in conducting divorce workshops.
Right from the start, the preparation was hands on as she made appointments with clients to help draft their petitions of divorce by making certain that all the important details of the petition were correct.
"This was a great experience for me, as I was able to interact one on one with each client. As a result, I learned how to speak with clients, how to draft the necessary documents for a divorce, and was able to experience first hand each phase of the divorce process. I was also in charge of filing clients' petitions of divorce affidavits and judgments at the Orleans Parish courthouse. Although challenging at times, through my countless trips to the courthouse, I gained practical experience that I will continue to benefit from in the future," Sarah explained.
On one of those trips to the courthouse, Sarah also got to meet and speak with Loyola Law School graduate and Chief Judge Rosemary Ledet - a wonderful opportunity for a young law student.
"Because of my internship with The Project, my knowledge of the legal service industry was broadened and I was exposed to a very crucial area in the practice of law. It has given me a new appreciation for those people who give their time and effort for the benefit of those in need in our community. I would encourage anyone looking for a summer legal internship to seriously consider working with The Project and that all law students should have this experience before entering into their professional careers. My time here has been an experience I will not forget and one for which I will always be grateful," said Sarah.
On Their Own ...
Both Keren Kama and Brandon Wentworth came to The Project through Tulane Law School's inaugural public service externship program. Earning 3 credit hours each, both law students worked as law clerks to The Project's Chief Legal Officer, Linton Carney. As one might expect, Linton put them right to work doing legal research, drafting motions, filling out intake forms, communicating with clients and assisting The Project's countless volunteer attorneys.
But it was outside the office, that these two law students had their most challenging experiences by working at the Harry Tompson Center and at the Self-Help Resource Center in the Orleans Parish Civil District Court (CDC).
|(l to r) Brandon, Keren and Sherry Dolan, Baker Donelson at the Self-Help Desk at the CDC|
"While working at the Harry Tompson Center, I was able to assist homeless individuals with their legal issues by completing intake interviews and providing referrals to non-profit organizations and legal clinics. At the Self-Help Resource Center I was able to help guide pro se litigants through the filing process in Family Law. Both settings exposed me to real-life problems that underprivileged residents face and the legal obstacles to their solutions. This is an experience that I could never have received inside a classroom," explains Keren.
Like Keren, Brandon saw another side of the legal service industry, which showed him how vital public interest legal work is for the overall health of a community.
"By working at the homeless clinic, I got to see firsthand the amount and variety of the legal needs of the homeless community, a group whose access to legal resources is extremely limited. But, as important, I saw that a determined and committed legal profession can help to meet many of these needs on a pro bono basis," Brandon explained.
On the other hand, by working at the Pro Se Help Desk, Brandon also got to see the great potential for individuals to help themselves when they are able to get a little guidance navigating a sometimes complex legal system.
"My experience at the self-help desk strongly showed me that the need for attorneys to make themselves available for pro bono is great, as many of the legal obstacles encountered by would-be pro se litigants are difficult to navigate without an attorney," he said.
Keren and Brandon, along with all the law student interns recognized through their work with The Project that the individuals in need, the community and the volunteer attorneys benefit greatly from availability of pro bono services. As law students, the hands-on experience they gain by working with The Project is an important part of their legal education that ultimately benefits everyone.