In reflecting on internship experiences, the primary objective is to answer the big “so what?” type questions that all readers ask – “why does it matter that you did this internship, who does it affect, and was the experience useful?” While I may fall short in answering all of these questions in depth, and at the risk of brown-nosing, I would like to start by saying that I have been truly fortunate to intern at NYSDRA. I was given substantial tasks involving legal and non-legal research, as well as numerous opportunities to participate in not-for-profit lobbying efforts, observe how a not-for-profit board operates, and attend trainings on juvenile justice. These opportunities have contributed to my growth as a future attorney in many ways.
While internships provide excellent opportunities for law students to determine potential career paths, their chief goals are to offer educational and professional development experiences. Interning at NYSDRA offered me many opportunities to step outside of my comfort zone and research topics that I was wholly unfamiliar with, such as debt collection mediation, paid and unpaid internship programs, and public hearings. I was also able to collaborate with staff on how mediation could fit into New York’s pro bono requirement for newly admitted attorneys.
Furthermore, I was able to partner with board members and CDRC staff throughout the State in providing information and advocating for base funding to support all CDRCs in meetings with assembly members and senators. I was also able to take the lead for my group in following-up these meetings with e-mails to those we met with.
Academically, I advanced my research skills and often presented oral answers to research questions rather than writing the lengthy memorandums most law students are accustomed to. This forced me to synthesize my research into straightforward responses. I also learned about fiscal responsibility and program development at not-for-profits through attendance at board meetings and participation in the board’s annual retreat.
Professionally, I was able to network with those in the field and gain a better understanding of mediation as a whole and its ability to create more favorable outcomes in traditional legal disputes.
On a personal level, I found a new focus of interest—juvenile justice. A loaded phrase in and of itself, the term “juvenile justice” took on a new meaning for me after attending a training seminar on school-based and juvenile justice programming. I began to understand the importance of restorative practices in schools as well as the unintended consequences of more arrests and changes in policing philosophies.
Internships offer a unique opportunity for law students to test out different careers and training, but they should also be used assess learning styles and grow as future attorneys. The invaluable knowledge gained as an intern at NYSDRA helped to inform my academic and professional goals by allowing me to work in a positive environment and explore the standards of an often-underutilized field.