By: Lizzy Vinal
Going into law school at the University at Buffalo School of Law, I knew I wanted to work in public interest in some way. My ultimate goal is to work with domestic violence survivors, and I started looking for my summer fellowship with that goal in mind. I found the Family Justice Center (“FJC”) of Erie County, an amazing organization that is a one-stop-shop for people escaping domestic violence. Along with the FJC, I also have the privilege of working this summer as a fellow with the Legal Aid Bureau of Buffalo, Inc.’s Attorneys for Children (“AFC”) Unit, which provides representation and support for children involved in Family Court proceedings.
With both of my placements in place in the beginning of the spring semester, I was excited for the summer. I started making plans of how I was going to go downtown every day, thinking about what lunches I could bring, talking to my friends about how we could meet up after work, and the other big dreams a 1L has of their first summer internship. My classmates and I listened to lecturers telling us what our summer would look like and how we should conduct ourselves to get the most out of our internships. My mom was not happy with my normal daily uniform of leggings and took me shopping for clothes that I could wear to court. There was talk about a virus but very little information about how it would affect us.
I was at my peak excitement on my birthday, right before spring break, when we got the email that would change all the information we had gotten so far. Suddenly, my classmates and I did not know if we would have an internship anymore, if it would be in person, if we would be allowed to live where we were living, and so many other “if’s.” This news put quite the damper on my birthday, my break, and my summer. I am thankful that I did not have to worry about where I was living and how I was going to pay for food, a sense of security that many people did not have. I am honored to receive the Suzanne Tomkins Women, Children & Social Justice Advocacy Fellowship Award. Receiving a fellowship has allowed me to focus on public interest work without having to worry about having an income.
After making sure that I still had my internships, I finished my finals and tried to imagine what my summer would look like. My ideas of going into court and walking around the offices turned into planning which room in my apartment would make the best workspace. The beginning of the summer was rocky, which was no surprise considering how this year has been going. With both organizations working so hard, it is difficult to add someone to the mix and train them under normal circumstances, let alone when everyone is separated and struggling with the transition as well. Once the issues were all smoothed over, I was able to start working.
My days are now spent calling clients, drafting petitions, and doing research. The weekly staff meetings at AFC give me a glimpse into the vibrant work environment that I would have loved to be more involved in. The emails from Jessica and the advocates giving me cases has allowed me to feel like I am part of the FJC team, a community I have fallen in love with.
I thought this summer could never live up to my expectations and that I would not get nearly as much out of the experience as I would in-person. Fortunately, I was wrong. While I miss being able to talk face to face with people, working with clients remotely, over the phone and email, has created a challenge that is exciting to overcome. Since I cannot observe attorneys in court, I have the opportunity to find advice and relationships that I might not normally have found. Without being able to meet up with friends after work in the area, I had the time to reconnect with friends from other areas that I would not normally be able to see. And I even get to wear leggings every day. This summer has not been what I expected, to say the least, nevertheless, Judy and the AFC staff and Jessica and the FJC staff have helped and taught me so much.
Name: Lizzy Vinal
Name of Fellowship: Suzanne Tomkins Women, Children & Social Justice Advocacy Fellowship Award
Placement: Legal Aid Bureau of Buffalo Attorneys for Children & the Family Justice Center of Erie County
Location: Buffalo, NY
“One important lesson I have learned from this fellowship is doing what you love makes even the worst situations worth it.”