Learning New Skills for a Different Type of Internship

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By: Laura Conboy

Even before I applied to law school, I knew I wanted to work in public interest. As I went through my first semester of my 1L year at the University at Buffalo School of Law, I grew excited for my first legal job, knowing that I would be helping people. I applied for an internship at the New York State Division of Human Rights in Rochester, New York.

I was eager to work in an environment truly committed to justice. I was excited at the prospect of getting one-on-one mentorship from the investigators and getting to build camaraderie with my coworkers. I really enjoyed the times in class when we would be asked to discuss with the person next to us what we thought of a certain case, so I was hopeful we would have similar experiences in the office. While I was sometimes hesitant to ask a question in class in case the answer was obvious to my classmates, I would often stay after for clarification. I was hopeful to have the same learning opportunities in the office as I did in the classroom.

LConboy WorkspaceThe day after we were told the remainder of our semester would be online due to COVID-19, I received my offer to work at the Division of Human Rights. A few months after that, I was told the internship would be entirely online. While I was grateful my internship would proceed at all given the current climate, I was nervous about how the interactions would work in an online setting. Luckily, the IT department was able to work with me and my ancient laptop to get everything set up smoothly.

I was instantly drawn to the work itself. It was engaging to listen and take notes during conferences as each side explained why one felt discriminated against and why the other felt the opposite. It was interesting to read through the complaints, responses, and offer my own opinion to attorneys on what further information was needed to make a decision. It was rewarding to know my work had an impact in allowing people to feel heard and be made whole. I happily and quietly did the work assigned to me.

About two weeks into my internship, my supervisor recommended to her supervisor that I been assigned to draft a Final Investigation Report and Basis for Determination. I was excited about this opportunity because these Final Reports were the last step in coming to a conclusion on whether a case had Probable Cause or No Probable Cause for Discrimination.

I read through all the information about this case twice. I reviewed the Intern Packet on how to write reports. It had a substantial section with examples of different types of reports but it did not have any Final Report examples. I debated asking for more clarification on the assignment but decided against burdening my supervisor’s supervisor with questions, when my supervisor had already stated that I had the necessary skills. If I were in the office, I might have asked when she assigned the Final Report or turned to the person next to me, but alone, I felt embarrassed to put in writing that I was unprepared for a project for which I was recommended. I decided to proceed with the Final Report with my understanding of what it should look like.

I did not, however, understand what a Final Report was supposed to look like. My supervisor’s supervisor sent me her rewritten final report of the case, and it was clear that without seeing an example, I had not known the tone or language that was necessary. While most of the reports I had worked on were written about my thoughts on the case in plain English, the Final Report had to be much more decisive and formal.

I had been so afraid of embarrassing myself by seeming unprepared that I ended up embarrassing myself much more by not fully preparing. I had not wanted to add work to this supervisor’s schedule by asking questions, but I created more work for her by causing her to have to rewrite it entirely. Luckily for me, she offered to take me through my report step by step on what I did wrong and I jumped at that opportunity and asked every question I could think of. At the next opportunity to draft a Final Report, I made sure to send any question I had and looked at several examples for reference. I also asked questions along the way to make sure I was on the right track.

I am grateful for the opportunity to work at the Division this summer. I learned a great deal about Human Rights Law, and feel I contributed in a meaningful way. I also learned how to be more pro-active. Not only was I able to ask for help on projects I was assigned, I also asked for extra projects and different types of projects, allowing me to get much more out of my internship than I would have otherwise. I had the opportunity to join conferences, conduct interviews, and draft reports that had a significant impact on the lives of New Yorkers seeking justice.

I was able to participate in timely cases involving people terminated for COVID-19 or Black Lives Matter activism. While much was lost in having my first legal internship entirely online, I learned to adapt my skillset to the work I was given, and take advantage of the opportunities that it presented. In my legal career, I will not always have a professor or classmate next to me to turn to, but the important thing is to not be afraid to ask questions to access the resources needed to succeed.

I want to thank Kaplan & Reynolds Summer Fellowship Award for granting me this opportunity. I am so grateful for their generosity in allowing me to pursue a summer internship working at the Division of Human Rights on behalf of justice.

 

LConboy CompositeName: Laura Conboy, ‘22

Name of Fellowship: Kaplan & Reynolds Summer Fellowship Award

Placement: New York State Division of Human Rights, Rochester

Location: Rochester, New York (remotely from Buffalo, New York)

One important lesson I have learned from this fellowship: “Don’t be afraid to speak up and ask questions!”

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