Summer Interns reflect on learning about legal aid
The Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation hosted four interns this past summer to provide area students with work experience supporting civil legal aid.
MLAC staff was sorry to say goodbye to this smart and dedicated group of interns as they prepared to return to school. Each left us with a reflection about their experiences interning at MLAC this summer.
Leah Grannum, Suffolk University student studying Government
This summer, I had the pleasure of interning with the Communications department and the Equal Justice Coalition. I wrote articles for the website, assisted with fact sheets/website layouts, and helped during the budget process for FY20 by delivering letters to state legislators, updating excel sheet information, and gathering information about legal aid partners. One article I wrote explored past and present Bart Gordon fellows. My role was to research fellows who have done and continue to do tremendous work within civil legal aid. This project particularly interested me because I was able to reach out to different Bart Gordon fellows who continue their work today. There was never been a moment where I did not enjoy a project or task given to me. I used the time I was given as a learning experience. I learned skills in word choice when writing different articles, how to navigate excel sheets, and how state legislators play a role in the budget process.
I had the opportunity to attend MLAC’s first statewide Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion professional development conference: Disrupting Cycles of Inequity: Expanding Racial Equity in the Legal Profession. At this conference I was able to dive deeper into microaggressions, poverty law, race equity, among many other great sessions. This conference was a great way to meet others who are involved in legal aid and play an integral role in legal assistance.
There are no words to express how grateful I am to my supervisors, along with the other interns at MLAC. I am very happy to say that my supervisors and others within the office served as mentors to my experience. I always gained helpful feedback from all of them on the projects I was working on. I appreciate how MLAC made me feel safe in my working environment as well as included.
The Diversity, Equity and Inclusion office was a great aspect of my experience. Knowing that the organization promotes diversity inclusion within a work space environment and within legal aid is amazing. Identifying as a Black woman in the Law & Public Policy field means that as I continue in my education to a job, I will be serving the needs of people who I racially identify with. This is important to me, because I want to be able to serve the needs of marginalized communities who face racial discrimination. I know that I have a connection to policy work that directly affects low-income people of color, therefore, I want to continue to advocate for people who are systematically profiled and targeted.
Julia Ganley, Yale University student studying Sociology
While taking time off from earning a B.A. in Sociology, I had the privilege of interning in MLAC’s Data department. My primary project was a demographic study of low-income Massachusetts residents. Over the course of the summer, I developed a tool for estimating the distribution of seven demographic characteristics, including race, sex, and disability status. This tool expands MLAC’s ability to understand Massachusetts communities and serve them equitably. In its role supporting local legal aid organizations, MLAC can use demographic statistics to answer questions such as: How large is the Latinx population in our region? Is it fairly represented in our clientele? What percentage of our clients have disabilities? Do folks with disabilities face barriers to receiving our services?
Every day, my research impressed on me the magnitude and multidimensionality of inequality in our state. Data analysis is a powerful tool for documenting this inequality, identifying underserved communities, and measuring the impact of policies and programs. My internship gave me a concrete understanding of how to apply my skills to the issues that matter to me. I gained confidence using Excel to clean, analyze, and display data from a variety of sources. I also learned to navigate the U.S. Census Bureau’s database. Census data is available to the public; nonprofit, for-profit, and government organizations make use of it. My experience at MLAC equipped me to utilize this resource, and I look forward to doing so in my career.
My supervisors introduced me to best practices for analyzing data and writing reports in a nonprofit environment. I noticed how Michael Raabe’s experience as a legal aid lawyer informed the practices of MLAC’s data department. He guided me in writing reports that are readable and reproducible for MLAC employees, and directly useful to providers of legal services. In every step of my research, I was challenged to consider: Who will read this report? What will they use it for? What do they want to know?
The MLAC Data Summit put my research in context. Representatives of more than 10 LAOs met to discuss a new data collection initiative. This initiative, in conjunction with the tool I developed, will enable MLAC to perform important demographic comparisons. It will also present challenges for the client-facing organizations collecting the data. I listened as they brainstormed ways to streamline data collection and discussed the nuances of asking for personal information in the client-advocate relationship. Sometimes folks struggle to fit their identities into the categories offered in demographic surveys. Advocates and intake workers will need training in how to ask these questions effectively. Attending the Data Summit was a highlight of my summer. It gave me insight into the relationship between MLAC and the LAOs it funds, and it complicated my thinking about how human identities are represented by data points.
As the second intern to work on this project, it was clear to me that MLAC values the diverse perspectives of its interns. My supervisors, Michael Raabe and Martha Rogers, supported me in exploring multiple approaches and asking critical questions. Folks at MLAC expressed genuine interest in my input, as well as commitment to stewarding the next generation of public servants. I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this project and the movement to make real justice accessible to all Massachusetts residents.
Bria Gambrel, Simmons University student pursuing a Master’s in Public Policy and Gender and Cultural Studies
Interning at the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation has been incredibly rewarding. During my tenure as the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Intern, I was able to co-create a conference highlighting racial inequities in the legal profession titled Disrupting Cycles of Inequity: Expanding Racial Equity in the Legal Profession, organize and plan professional development opportunities for both MLAC and grantee programs, and curate content and resources for MLAC and our grantee programs to continue using for years to come.
I came into this role having cursory knowledge about legal aid—like most interns I would assume!—but during my time I’ve learned about the process of receiving legal aid, as well as what it takes to keep the engine of the entire system running smoothly. My experience has shaped my understanding of legal services and has opened my eyes to the possibilities of access to justice for underrepresented people through legal aid.
With this knowledge, I intend to build on my experience and continue doing diversity, equity, and inclusion work in the legal profession, and possibly attend law school to receive my JD.
Kimberly Alexander, Boston high school student participating in the Boston Bar Association Summer Jobs Program
My experience at MLAC has been quite enjoyable. I have been working on various administrative projects around the office. I have also been able to speak with different departments that I’m interested in to get insight and gain more knowledge about what their department entails.
My internship has taught me about being in a workplace with adults, instead of being in a classroom with other students. It has given me a change of environment. I enjoyed being out of my comfort zone, learning new things about the work environment, and gaining more work experience.
A highlight of my experience was that I had the opportunity to visit four legal aid organizations that MLAC funds to gain more insight and knowledge about legal aid and advocacy work. I visited organizations such as Political Asylum/ Immigration Representation, Volunteer Lawyers Project, Massachusetts Advocates for Children, and Victim Rights Law Center.
This internship has affected my thinking about legal aid and my career plans. Since middle school, I have been passionate about history and civil rights. Legal Aid means more to me now and I truly have a better understanding of it. Regarding my career plans, I am interested in possibly having a career that focuses on advocating for those in need.