Silver Linings Pandemic

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By: Margaret Drzewiecki

Things looked very different this summer from how I’d imagined they would be. Instead of commuting from New York City to Newark, I had the fastest commute ever—arriving to work as early as I could roll out of bed and open my laptop. Instead of being immersed in work at a judge’s chambers, I often worked from my kitchen table or even my couch.Picture1

This summer, I was a (remote) judicial intern for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit under the Honorable Julio M. Fuentes. While I didn’t get quite the behind-the-scenes experience I had been looking forward to, I did get to witness the Court and its dedicated staff adapt to legal life during a pandemic. As an intern, I learned to adapt alongside the rest of the Court’s staff. We were in it together—adjusting and learning—moving forward even when it felt like time was standing still.

In my Legal Analysis, Writing, and Research (LAWR) class at the University at Buffalo School of Law with Professor Laura Reilly, she did her best to teach us tools to deal with the stresses of law school and the legal profession. One of the most memorable pieces of advice she gave our class was that no matter what opportunity  we ended up getting for the summer, any internship was whatever we made of it. Some of the other tools Professor Reilly taught us came in the form of resilience techniques.

Gratefulness was one technique that particularly stuck with me. We were advised to keep a gratefulness list of everything we were grateful for—big or small. Another technique was reminding ourselves what we “get to” do especially when things aren’t looking so great. The gratefulness and “I get to” strategies help me find silver linings and focus on the good even (and especially) when it feels like everything is falling apart.

Due in large part to Judge Fuentes’ law clerks, my internship moved forward, albeit not as originally planned. Like many things in the pandemic, the internship became remote. Instead of meetings, I was present for conference calls. I sent more emails than ever and checked in with my supervising law clerks periodically. Day-to-day found me working much more independently than I probably would have been had the internship been in person. Despite being remote, I still had the support system of my fellow interns.

Recognizing that we were all facing similar challenges was helpful. There was a sense of community between the law clerks and interns, Judge Fuentes, and the rest of staff: we were rising to meet these challenges together. It was undoubtedly a different sense of community than we would have achieved in person, but a sense of community nonetheless.

Attending an appellate court argument was one of the aspects of the internship I had been looking forward to most. Of course, the pandemic changed this plan as well. Instead of observing oral arguments in person, I was present via a livestream on YouTube. The attorneys presented their arguments over Zoom. This particularly resonated with me, as my own 1L oral argument in my LAWR class took place over Zoom.

Picture3When official 1L oral arguments were cancelled due to UB’s transition to remote learning, Professor Reilly offered them to our class as a voluntary exercise. At first, feeling somewhat resentful at how the pandemic was uprooting plans, I debated whether the experience would still be as valuable as in its previous form. Remembering Professor Reilly’s advice from earlier in the semester, I decided to make the most of an opportunity to participate virtually.

To later witness actual, practicing attorneys do the same thing I had done made me realize how important it is to embrace every opportunity presented. This summer taught me that planning is essential, but so is having the flexibility of an open mind and ability to adapt when things don’t seem to be going my way.

Picture4For all of us, law students and beyond, this summer was a lesson in resilience. We learned to adapt and persevere through less than ideal circumstances. We learned to recognize success in the ordinary as well as the extraordinary. We learned to be proactive instead of dwelling in uncertainty.

I recognize not only the privilege to go to law school and have an internship during this tumultuous summer, but also the privilege to be the recipient of a Ross M. Cellino ’82 & Anna Marie Cellino ’81 Summer Fellowship Award Summer Fellowship through the University at Buffalo School of Law. I am grateful to Judge Fuentes and his law clerks for giving me the opportunity to work with them this summer, and I am so grateful for the generous donors to my fellowship for giving me financial security in these unprecedented times.

Near the end of my internship, I spoke with Judge Fuentes who said he hoped that I and the other interns found it to be a worthwhile experience. I responded that it would have been memorable without a pandemic, but that given the circumstances and the extra lessons I learned this summer, I would definitely always remember the internship. It taught me that life goes on, and we will always find a way to go on, too.

Picture5Name: Margaret Drzewiecki

Name of Fellowship: Ross M. Cellino ’82 & Anna Marie Cellino ’81 Summer Fellowship Award

Placement: U.S. Court of Appeals, Third Circuit

Location: Newark, NJ turned Buffalo, NY (remote)

One important lesson I have learned is: Everything is what you make of it, so make the most of every opportunity.”