This summer, The Pro Bono Project was delighted to host a group of law students from the Loyola Law School, Gillis Long Poverty Center's Summer Intern Program.
Funded by the Legal Services Corporation, the Summer Intern Program gives first- and second-year law students the opportunity to work with one of the pro bono programs throughout the state.
The Project's group included four law students: Joe Loochkartt, Constance (Connie) Colley, Kyle Keenan and Rick Yelton. This hands-on program gives students the needed experience to enhance their legal and people skills, as well as to learn from experienced staff and volunteer lawyers. The program ended in early August and here are some reflections by the students that show the benefits of such real-world experience on many levels.
“Pro bono attorneys hold the key to justice” – that is the phrase I saw on my first day of my internship at The Pro Bono Project office in New Orleans. At that time I wasn’t clear what this tagline meant. Today, I understand that it is more than a tagline. Pro bono attorneys hold the key to justice because they are bridge between judicial remedies and everyday people.
Being in law school one loses sight of the fact that having access to an attorney is not something that a good number of Americans can afford. In law school, we read about legal and equitable remedies in different areas of law but forget that before these judgments are given, there is a process to get a legal issue before a court. This process is costly due to the fees attorneys and courts charge for even the most basic of legal services. Justice should not have a price tag but the brutal truth is that it does and that fact has real life consequences for real people.
The worst aspect of not being able to afford representation is the kind of things other people can get away with doing to other people. For example, I was given a number of contractor cases and saw firsthand how fraudulent contractors have preyed upon innocent people by taking people’s money and never putting in so much as a nail in the wall.
The victims are people who received grants from the federal government to make their home livable and/or safe in case of a flood. It is upsetting, frustrating, and demoralizing to know that people are getting away with this kind of fraud mainly because their victims have no access to a lawyer.
For people who have been hurt by these contractors their only remedy is to file a lawsuit against the contractor. That kind of solution takes money and the people who are hurt do not have the money it takes to seek justice and protection for their rights. These are but one aspect of the law where I saw a need for justice.
At The Pro Bono Project I saw families brought together, people restart their lives by obtaining a divorce, employees receive money they never got paid. If it were not for the work of pro bono lawyers, these people would be worse off.
My time here has made me understand the importance and responsibility I will have one day in my job as an attorney. In addition to the moral aspects of my internship, I have learned important skills in letter drafting, file organization, client meetings, client follow up, client phone calls, and translations.
One memorable experience is when The Project hosted a legal clinic at the U.S. Naval base and I was able to help those that serve our country. These young men were in need of legal services just as any other civilian and truly appreciated our help.
The need for justice and remedies does not discriminate, and everyone from the pauper to the most sophisticated, seek and enjoy the fruits it brings. The Pro Bono Project gives the key to lawyers to bring the sweet fruits of justice to all. I am delighted to serve this organization.
Constance (Connie) Colley
As a law student who is entering into her final year of law school, it was vital to gain practical legal skills and I could not be happier with my internship experience with The Pro Bono Project. The Project not only provided me with an opportunity to gain those skills, but also gave me a chance to see lawyers who love their job, which is something not all students are fortunate enough to witness.
I spent the majority of my time working under staff paralegal Zakiya LaGrange and focused my legal skills in the area of family law. Before starting at The Project, I had only taken one family law class. After ten weeks of working under Zakiya, I truly feel that my place in the legal community will be found in family law. I gained skills in drafting petitions, client interaction, and working through the divorce process from beginning to end.
What I am most thankful for is the practice I got with filing. As much as I dreaded going to the CDC, I couldn’t be happier that Zakiya made me go. For a law student to be able to say they filed the papers they helped create, with clients they met and interacted with – this is invaluable experience that will help me in my future job search. Now, I can send certified mail, work a copy machine, file papers in court (without things going completely wrong), and confidently speak with clients. I have never been more confident in my decision to be an attorney or to work in public interest.
Although the skills I learned are important, I was surprised at how much I learned about the legal community. As a student who has always been interested in public interest work, I have always heard that there are good lawyers out in the community. However, I had never truly seen them until my summer with The Project. I was so impressed with every staff member’s positive attitude about their job and the clients they serve.
Each staff member was patient and kind with all the students and supportive of the work we were learning to do. I was able to ask questions when I did not understand without feeling embarrassed and go to my supervisor and co-workers to get advice about working in this field.
I hope to continue working with The Pro Bono Project in the future and recommend this Gillis Long internship to any student who wants to gain practical skills, especially in family law. I am so thankful for the kindness and support I received from every person I met during my time working at The Project.
For 10 weeks this summer, I had the extreme pleasure of working as Gillis Long summer intern for The Pro Bono Project. This position allowed me the invaluable opportunity to learn a variety of legal skills in a hands-on environment.
I worked directly with Christopher Coty, the staff successions lawyer. As a common law student from Montana, getting first hand experience in a civil law system, and with Louisiana successions, was an interactive learning experience in a completely new area of law.
As a successions intern, I learned the creation of a succession from start to finish. Many of the cases that pass through The Pro Bono Project begin with an intake interview and culminate in filing petitions at the courts. From my first day, spent helping to interview clients about what kind of legal assistance they needed, to my last day, helping to close dozens of open successions cases over the summer, I would not trade my time and experience with The Pro Bono Project for anything.
One of the most rewarding aspects of my time as a Gillis Long Summer Legal Intern was the opportunity to interact with a diverse pool of clients and develop a professional relationship with them, while helping with their legal issues. Additionally, the first hand interaction I had with the staff attorneys accelerated the learning curve dramatically. Working with a fun and supportive staff made learning about Louisiana civil law and successions informative and interesting.
The most rewarding experience was when clients, with whom I had met and interacted, expressed great appreciation and gratitude for helping them with their legal issue. Additionally, the personal relationships with the employees of the courts grew immediately. Constant personal interaction with the clients, attorneys, and staff were the highlight of my time at The Pro Bono Project.
Reflecting on my time at The Project, I can see the growth of my personal independence and confidence in my interactions with clients and written legal works. Also, I finished the summer with a great network of people from the office, both staff, volunteers, and other interns, that will be beneficial for my future legal pursuits, and also as great friends outside of the legal profession.
My summer experience at The Pro Bono Project was both a great learning experience and very fulfilling. In particular, I got direct experience inside a juvenile courtroom, where I was able to apply my education to a real law setting.
Even as a student, I felt both valued and respected by The Project’s staff members, who gave me important responsibilities, while simultaneously answering my many questions and providing context for the work.
Most importantly, this summer has reinforced for me the importance of The Pro Bono Project’s mission to provide so many metro-area New Orleanians access to the courts.
After this summer, The Pro Bono Project will always be very close to my heart, and I will continue my relationship to it, no matter where my legal career takes me.