More than Just the Law

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By Esther Kim ’23

This summer, I had the wonderful opportunity to serve as a law student intern with the New York State Court’s 8th Judicial District in Erie County. As an undergraduate, I had interned for the Public Defender’s Office so I thought I knew what to expect. Little did I know how wrong I was going to be. After a year of law school, I understood more of what was going on in the courtroom, but at the same time, I had so many more questions. My first year of law school at the University at Buffalo School of Law taught me that lawyers work tirelessly to advocate for their clients. My summer internship taught me that judges and law clerks do their best to uphold the law. 

I used to think the law was clear cut. There are laws set in place for a reason, and once broken, there are consequences. While this is true, my internship with The Honorable Susan Eagan taught me that there is a certain amount of compassion needed when administering the consequences. As people live their lives, unexpected circumstances result in unforeseen outcomes, which give us our own individual experiences. The law is set, but as a judge, Judge Eagan could balance individual experiences and compassion within the boundaries of the law. 

Throughout my internship, I had the opportunity to attend weekly programming sessions with various presenters on different subjects. This gave me the chance to learn more about Alternative Dispute Resolution, jury selection, and more. As a first-year law student, I had been exposed to these topics on a surface level, but through the internship I gained an in-depth knowledge of each topic. I was especially surprised with jury selection and how extensive the process is. 

My summer internship happened at a time of transition, as the court system moved out of the pandemic and into more of a normal life. This meant that court restrictions slowly lifted and the criminal part of court moved to in-person. Because of the transition, hearings, court dates, and court appearances had to be rescheduled as they moved from virtual to in-person appearances. As a result, flexibility was key. 

I also worked with the Access to Justice team, a group comprised of members of the Erie County courthouse and local legal organizations and other community partners. This group is deeply committed to providing legal access to everyone. I created an easy-to-read chart of all the different organizations in Erie County and what legal services they offered. Initially, I hesitated to take on this project because I had never done something like this. In the end, I was extremely happy I did because I was able to learn about the various legal services that local Erie County organizations offered. As I worked on this project, I realized the deep sense of community in Buffalo.

Through the generous Allison Tam ’97 & Thomas Tam ’97 1L Summer Fellowship Award through the University of Buffalo Law School Summer Public Interest Funding & Fellowship Program, I was able to get an amazing experience at the 8th Judicial District. Being in a courtroom, observing attorneys advocating for their clients, and interning with Judge Eagan as she worked tirelessly to uphold the law was an unbelievable experience. Thank you very much to donors of this summer fellowship!

Name: Esther Kim ‘23

Name of Fellowship: Allison Tam ’97 & Thomas Tam ’97 1L Summer Fellowship Award

Placement: Hon. Susan Eagen, Erie County Court – 8th Judicial District

Location: Buffalo, NY

One important lesson I have learned from this fellowship: “As I worked on this project [with the Access to Justice team], I realized the deep sense of community in Buffalo.”