Summer Public Interest Fellowship Reports
Saturday, September 15, 2007
Joseph L. Rauh, Jr. Equal Justice Works Chapter
Summer Public Interest Fellowship Program
Experience tells us that summer jobs are among the most effective training grounds for building student expertise and commitment, make valuable professional contacts, and provide vitally needed legal services - often to individuals who otherwise could not afford a lawyer. Unfortunately, the very organizations and agencies most engaged in this type of work, and most in need of student support, often cannot afford to pay students for their work. To address this operational paradox, several years ago, our School of Law began to raise funds from law firms, friends and alumni to provide Summer Public Interest Fellowships. Based on the success of this experience, the School of Law now supports Fellowships for all qualifying first year students - and for as many second year students as possible.
Students receiving the Fellowships work full-time, for a minimum of ten weeks, supervised by an attorney, in support of a public interest, governmental or judicial office. The School of Law provides stipends to Fellows in the amount of $3,000. (To support this program, you can make a tax-deductible donation to the "DC School of Law Foundation” with a notation to "EJW.” Send it c/o Dean Shelley Broderick/UDC David A. Clarke School of Law/4200 Connecticut Avenue, NW/Washington, D.C. 20008 or donate on-line.
The School of Law raised enough funding to provide stipends to 30 qualifying Class of 2009 first-year students and several Class of 2008 second-year students who obtained public interest jobs last summer. The Joseph L. Rauh Summer Public Interest Fellowship Program enables students to spend their summers building expertise and making valuable professional contacts while providing vitally needed legal services, often to individuals who otherwise could not afford a lawyer. The placements included: Advocacy Incorporated; AFGE Local 12; Cache County Attorney; CAIR Coalition; Catholic Charities Immigration Legal Services; Center for Constitutional Rights; Childon County District Attorney's Office; The Children's Law Center; Clark Co. Public Defender's Office; Community Service and Development Clinic; D.C. City Council; D.C. Office of Administrative Hearings - Judge Mahon; D.C. Office of the Attorney General; Montgomery County Public Defender's Office - Juvenile Division; Neighborhood Legal Services Program; Polaris Project; Public Defender's Office of Santa Clara County, CA; Public Defender Service of DC; Rappahannock Legal Services; UDC-DCSL HIV/AIDS Clinic; and UDC-DCSL Juvenile and Special Education Clinic.
Students Report Back
During my internship at the Southeast Office of the Neighborhood Legal Services Program, I assisted with interviewing clients and negotiating with opposing parties. One case that stands out in my mind was a case which required me to actively listen to the client. A client called our office with a Landlord and Tenant issue stating that her landlord had illegally evicted her. She said she was not given proper notice and that he had taken this action without the proper use of the Court. I immediately began writing a pleading without going into any of the particulars of her case. Thankfully, I had the guidance of Managing Attorney, William Stancil, to fix my errors. Without his oversight, I would not have caught the most crucial part of her case. Her Landlord evicted her because she was his former wife and his new wife no longer wanted her on the property or for him to pay his ex-wife spousal support.
Attorney Stancil’s listening abilities coupled with his ability to ask the right questions prompted us to file an additional pleading for support payments as well as a complaint for unlawful eviction. From that experience, I learned that listening and allowing a client the time to tell his or her story is key to client interaction.
I truly enjoyed the substantive work that I was able to complete while in the office. I look back on this experience with nothing but positive things to say about the office, my co-workers, fellow interns, and our managing attorney because I truly enjoyed my summer experience.
My summer position is with the Office of Administrative Hearings ("OAH”) clerking under Principle Judge Long with the Rental Housing Division. During my time with the OAH, I have had two opportunities to write orders for judges and to research interesting and important aspects of law important to the average D.C. citizen. I research topics such as when a person is being charged too much rent and how a tenant can stand up for the quality of their living establishment. I also research the rights of D.C landlords and the law that governs the duties and obligations of landlords.
My ongoing project was to update the digest which will be used by the administrative law judges when making their orders and decisions. It is an incredible feeling to know that the cases I read, my interpretation of them, and my analysis of the case law will help guide judges in making decisions in their cases. I am reminded of the importance of my work when I come into work and see a room full of people waiting for
a hearing, knowing that my decisions, my wording, my analysis will guide the judges in making decisions which will affect the daily life of each and every person in the waiting room.
On my last day of internship, each judge wished me luck in my law school career and let me know how much they enjoyed my company and the quality of my work. I was told of the growing respect for UDC-DCSL and how impressed they were with the quality of the students the school was producing. I was asked if I would be interested in a fall fellowship with the OAH. My summer position sponsored by the EJW has just opened a door that very well could lead into my first job after school. I am so thankful for the opportunity!
Working at the Children’s Law Center has been a tremendous mix of emotions, including satisfaction, frustration and sorrow. Some times were filled with tremendous satisfaction. It is always nice to hear "you saved me; I would have been in front of the judge with nothing to say.” I was able to elicit information about a prospective adopter’s past criminal history. This man told the attorney I was working for, on numerous occasions, that he has not been involved in any criminal proceedings. That was simply not true, he had served 5 years in prison for possession with intent to distribute. This conviction would not bar him from adopting a child, but we would have made a misrepresentation to the Court in our adoption petition.
We had a young girl currently living in a foster home that was infested with cockroaches and mice. I was also informed that I needed to transport her to and from court that day. With thirty minutes to spend in the office I began calling the local exterminators and found that they were unavailable for days. But this girl needed an exterminator today or the next day or else she would be removed, by the court, from the place she had called home for many months. On my way to pick her up from this infested home I explained the serious nature of the situation to the manager of the exterminator and got a confirmation from him that they could have someone out the next morning.
Throughout the summer I was kept busy and had wide variety of tasks. I truly enjoyed my experience at the Children’s Law Center and met many wonderful people.
At Catholic Charities Immigration Legal Services, I had the opportunity to work with asylum seekers. In these cases the attorney assisting with the petition has to act as a social worker as well as an attorney. Unfortunately, if the severity of the persecution for the client in their home country was high, this increased the client’s chance for success in his or her case. When speaking with a client about their past persecution experiences, I became hopeful when the harm they suffered was well-documented. If a client did suffer a great deal, I was torn between being happy the client had a strong case for asylum, but sorrowful because of the pain the client had suffered.
I had the opportunity to attend an asylum hearing at the Arlington Immigration Court. The client’s case was particularly difficult because she suffered a great deal of harm in her home country. At most, the hearing consisted entirely of the petitioner’s own testimony and her accounts of her life in Burma. The government attorney, however, was unprepared and irritated when the client would get emotional on the stand, and had to pause to wipe her tears, apparently did not care about the client’s trauma, and was seemingly indifferent to her tales of rape, beatings, and threats by the Burmese government. Despite the brash tone and lack of sincerity from the government attorney, the client told her story with poise and sincerity and unscathed during cross-examination.
At the conclusion of the client’s testimony, the Judge decided her testimony alone was enough for his ruling. Our client won her asylum case. To see the smile on the client’s face as she realized what the immigration Judge’s decision meant for her, made me proud to be associated with an honorable organization such as Catholic Charities Immigration Legal Services.