Law School

Summer Series: Working Hard in Legal Aid

Our Summer Series continues! This series highlights different Latina students and law grads as they embark in their summer jobs and/or bar prep all across the country. We hope to provide a variety of work experiences, options for a healthy work-life balance, and general motivation through different guest contributors to help you to take charge of your summer and professional goals! Today we hear from Karen, a rising 2L, whose internship in legal aid has strengthened her resolve to pursue a career in poverty law:

I knew I wanted to do public interest work before I even knew what that meant. At first I thought about starting my own non-profit organization, but after four amazing years at the Alliance for Children’s Rights, a non-profit legal services agency that provides legal advocacy to foster youth in Los Angeles County, I realized that I wanted to be a public interest attorney especially because there just aren’t enough bilingual attorneys to help our community. So I decided to take the plunge and go to law school in hopes of becoming a public interest attorney. I never imagined that my first year of law school at UC Hastings School of Law would make me question my career choice.

During my first year of law school there were many times when I was asked, “why public interest? I mean they don’t get paid anything and do you even get to do legal work?” by both family and friends. Then there was the constant pressure to go to firm networking events, to sign up for the next firm interview program to make sure I was making all the right moves to land a six-figure firm job after graduation. I had only decided to go to law school after working in public interest, so why was I doubting myself and feeling the pressure to consider private work? I never felt more conflicted.

Luckily, I got an offer from the East Bay Community Law Center (EBCLC) to intern in their Housing practice over the summer. EBCLC is the community law clinic for the Berkeley Law School, but in the summer it opens its doors to students from all law schools. EBCLC not only provides holistic, multi-modal legal services to the residents of the East Bay but also provides clinical education to law students. As soon as I started my first week of training at EBCLC I saw what they meant by a clinical education. The trainings we had in just one week ranged from legal training on substantive law to conversations about equity, cultural sensitivity, intersecting identities, the privilege that we hold as law students and imposter syndrome. Having open conversations about those subjects forced me to have a conversation with myself about the many insecurities I felt after 1L year. Most importantly confronting those doubts helped me become more self-aware and start to believe in what I know is my purpose.

I have only been at EBCLC for three weeks but I already feel like I have gained so much knowledge not just about housing law but legal work in general. In my short time at EBCLC I’ve had the chance to conduct client interviews, research and draft motions, prepare discovery, negotiate settlements and prepare other legal documents. So yes, working in public interest does mean you are doing legal work! It is legal work AND it is NOT easy work. The attorneys often work long hours and cases cannot always be resolved in favor of our clients who are just days away from potential homelessness. However, clients are usually grateful simply for taking the time to listen to them. It really is something special when your client cries tears of happiness simply because you called them to let them know that the clinic can take their case for representation. In the short 3 weeks I have been with EBCLC, I have remembered why I decided to become a public interest attorney. My work at EBCLC has restored my commitment to public interest and has reaffirmed the path I chose. If I ever feel unsure about my path again, I will remember what the very inspiring EBCLC Director told us on our first week, “being a public interest attorney means working with limited resources against incredible odds- we’re heroes.” I’m not sure if I’ll ever be a hero, but I know that at the very least I can be a social justice warrior.