Gillis Long Poverty Law Center: A Commitment To The Working Poor

Over the past several summers, The Pro Bono Project has welcomed the opportunity to host Loyola law school interns through the Gillis Long Poverty Law Center (GLPLC). Unlike many of the out-of-state law students who come to The Project for a short time during spring, winter and summer breaks, the Gillis Long scholars work an entire semester, approximately three months, at The Project.

 Gillis Long Scholars: Luisa Batista (l) and Miranda Shaughnessy (r)

Gillis Long Scholars: Luisa Batista (l) and Miranda Shaughnessy (r)

In 2015, the Gillis Long Poverty Law Center created the opportunity for students to work during the spring semester (previously, only the summer was available) and The Pro Bono Project was among the first organizations to host law students during this critical part of the year.

For the 2016 spring semester The Project has selected Luisa Batista and Miranda Shaughnessy from a group of 15 who applied to be Gillis Long scholars.

“The Project has been fortunate to have a long relationship with the Gillis Long Poverty Law Center, explained Linton Carney, The Project’s chief legal officer.

"Their students have played an important role in helping us to continually manage the many activities necessary in providing civil legal services to more than 2,200 people each year. They come to us with only a basic understanding of poverty law, and the law in general. They leave even more committed to their chosen profession,”

For those too young to remember Gillis William Long, he served as a Louisiana congressman in Washington, D.C. from 1973 until his death in 1985. He was a cousin of both the late Governor Huey Long and Senator Russell Long. Like so many of his relatives, Gillis Long was known for his strong commitment to the working and poor people of Louisiana. In 1985, Congress provided Loyola University with federal funds to create an endowed Poverty Law Center in the name of Gillis W. Long. Professor William B. Quigley is the long-time director of the GLPLC.

Since 1993, the program has distributed more than $2 million in stipends to students. The summer 2015 intern class saw 51 Loyola Law students partnering with more than 18 organizations throughout the metro area to gain valuable hands-on experience.

“Gillis Long has proudly partnered with The Pro Bono Project for years. The exposure to seasoned attorneys, the hands-on work with clients, and the great atmosphere of service for justice combine to make The Pro Bono Project a wonderful place for Loyola Law students, who uniformly report excellent experiences with The Pro Bono Project,” said Professor Quigley.

Real People, Real Life

When students study the law in school, they don’t always have direct contact or first-hand experiences with the people they are learning to represent/serve. It’s easy to forget that the cases and accompanying documents represent real people in real-life situations that are setting precedents, creating new law and reaffirming past case law.

 Intern Luisa Batista with staff attorney Ona Sanders

Intern Luisa Batista with staff attorney Ona Sanders

“When I read cases for my law school classes, I often forget that the parties to the cases are real people. Working with The Pro Bono Project as a Gillis Long intern is so important to me because I am reminded that I am helping real people with issues that greatly impact their lives. Although [right now] it may be minimal, I believe that I have given the clients I have worked with a voice in the justice system,” explained Gillis Long intern Luisa Batista.

The interns are not only getting the chance to work with real clients, they are learning the details of managing a day-to-day caseload. In doing so, they are improving their legal and organizational skills, learning to have patience and finding ways to make the law less complex for lay people.

“I have learned practical skills that are not taught in law school. For example, I have learned to file documents [with the court] and I have conducted client interviews. From this experience, I hope to learn to become more patient, which is a key trait that will help me as a future lawyer and human being. The law can be complex to laypersons [and] patience is important when explaining the law to clients and also when interacting with opposing counsel,” said Luisa.

Some Gillis Long interns find the experience so valuable that they apply multiple times, knowing they will have different experiences with other organizations that will be valuable in their careers as lawyers. As well, getting to “try on” different aspects of the law by working through these internships with different organizations helps them find the type of law that most interests them. This may mean they will have a more satisfying career.

Lifelong Experience

Intern Miranda Shaughnessy understands the value of multiple internships.

 Staff paralegal Zakiya LaGrange (l) with intern Miranda Shaughnessy

Staff paralegal Zakiya LaGrange (l) with intern Miranda Shaughnessy

“This is my second time working as a Gillis Long intern, and I have already gained so much experience in terms of legal writing, research, and client interaction.

"Working for The Pro Bono Project is specifically important to me because my ultimate goal as a future attorney is to make a positive impact on the New Orleans community and provide the best possible legal services to those who cannot afford private attorneys. Additionally, I wanted to better familiarize myself with the different areas of family law,” explained Miranda.

The Project’s two 2016 law students both recognize that the experience of working through the Gillis Long internships not only prepares them for their legal careers but provides them with tremendous perspective on how to live their lives.

“My ultimate goal is to learn how to balance my emotional dedication and empathy for my cases with my professional career. Public interest work can be very emotionally taxing, but I know it is what I want to do. However, in order to be able to precisely focus on my clients and their cases, I need to know how to react to an emotional situation with a logical response and then work in a focused, careful manner. This is a practice that will not only help me to be successful in my legal career, but also in my personal life,” said Miranda.

The Pro Bono Project is proud to be one of the non-profit organizations that hosts Loyola College of Law Gillis Long Poverty Law Center’s interns. This is one of just many long-term partnerships that has enabled The Project expand its reach to the community at large. We look forward to many more interns and years of working with Bill Quigley, his staff and students at the Gillis Law Poverty Law Center.