At the Legal Aid Society of DC, we have an intern program that attracts some of the most talented and committed students from across the country. The students are drawn to Legal Aid because they want to learn practical skills and have a hands-on experience working with clients to solve their legal problems. Of course, the students bring with them energy and enthusiasm for our work that helps remind us every day that there is a next generation of lawyers motivated to make justice real for individuals and communities living in poverty.
In their own words …
Brenda Harkavy and Erica McKnight: This summer we have had the opportunity to draft pleadings, write research memoranda, interview prospective clients (in Spanish and English), participate in client meetings, assist with trial preparation, and observe court hearings in child support, domestic violence, and child custody cases. Knowing that our work had an immediate impact on the clients made our experiences so much more rewarding. We have learned a lot during our time at Legal Aid and are grateful to have had the opportunity to work with such smart, talented, and committed attorneys. We feel truly blessed to know what it is like to enjoy going to work every day and equally saddened to know that our time here is ending. Legal Aid’s Domestic Violence and Family Law Unit acts not only as a team, but as friends, in aiding their clients and one another. Not only is this organization one of a kind in its undying commitment to serving individuals in need, but it is also unique because of its amazingly dedicated and supportive staff.
Sophie Shames: Before the summer began, I knew that I wanted to work for a direct client service organization that not only helped people resolve their immediate legal problems, but also a group with the capacity to translate administrative and courtroom successes into broader solutions through policy and legislative advocacy. I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity for ten weeks this summer to do exactly that. As an intern in Legal Aid’s Public Benefits Unit, I assisted low-income clients in navigating a complex array of public benefits, including those experiencing denials or other problems with Social Security disability, Medicaid, Medicare Part D, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as Food Stamps.)
In addition to the primary goal of working to resolve our clients’ benefits issues, we also use evidence of the obstacles our clients face to advocate for systemic changes for all low-income DC residents. This summer I attended a DC City Council Meeting during which my supervisor, Jen Mezey, presented a list of principles to guide health care reform implementation in the District. One suggestion that particularly resonated with me was the need to streamline eligibility rules and processes for public insurance programs and invest in improved electronic systems. Many of our clients have suffered unnecessarily because of miscommunication between DC and Federal agencies, and improved information channels and efficient application and recertification procedures would reduce errors in the long run. Legal Aid attorneys and legal advocates across the city improve the lives of vulnerable residents every day, and I’m grateful to have had this summer internship to work with such a dedicated and intelligent staff.
Jennifer Frey and Brendan McTaggart: We interned with Legal Aid’s Housing Law Unit this summer, working with clients who were facing eviction and the loss of housing-related benefits. While our time at Legal Aid helped us to develop many legal skills, from drafting motions to conducting interviews, we both agree that a surprisingly rewarding experience was accompanying clients seeking to restore wrongfully terminated housing benefits to appointments at the D.C. Housing Authority. While this may seem like a mundane task, we were amazed at the difference our mere presence could make for our clients. The public housing and voucher programs are notoriously difficult to understand. People who lose their housing benefits even due to an obvious mistake by their landlord or the Housing Authority face tremendous bureaucratic difficulties in reinstating their benefits. Families can literally be forced into homelessness because of such an error.
Remedying the problem requires many visits to the Housing Authority: visits that require clients to miss work and that pose particular difficulties for clients with disabilities. Accompanying our clients to these appointments helped ensure that the clients received detailed and accurate instructions from the Housing Authority regarding their recertification process, and that their questions and concerns would not be ignored.
These visits showed us how important it is for our clients to have a lawyer, or even just a law student, on their side. It is a shame that so many people in our city are forced to navigate the system without the help of an advocate.
Michael Sabet: My experience as an intern in Legal Aid’s Consumer Law unit was excellent. I was exposed to a variety of legal issues, many of which involved foreclosure defense, loan rescue scams, and other related areas. I enjoyed working in a legal area where finance, real estate, and consumer law all merge together. Most of my work focused on research and writing, and I benefitted greatly from the feedback I received from my supervising attorney. Overall, I was very happy to have had the opportunity to work in such a collegial environment with people who are truly committed to assisting the under-served individuals and communities in D.C