By Kirstin Sherman ’23
Have you ever been to the Volunteer Lawyers Project Family Court Help Desk? Don’t worry if you haven’t, I’ll describe it to you in the shared language of American TV hospital dramas.
The Erie County Family Court is the magical place that I got to spend my summer thanks to the Hodgson Russ, LLP 1L Summer Fellowship Award through the University at Buffalo School of Law Public Interest Summer Program. This fellowship gave me the opportunity to accept an unpaid internship working with the Erie County Bar Association Volunteer Lawyer Project (VLP)’s Family Court Help Desk. This opportunity helped me find my place in the Buffalo legal community and I will forever be grateful for such a great first year experience and to the donors of this fellowship!
Just as you see in any hospital drama, there is always life-changing work to be done in the family court. The reality of public interest legal work is that we are usually meeting the help desk clients on the worst day of their lives. The clients may be facing losing their children or otherwise breaking up their families. Working in public interest law gives us the opportunity to make these worst days into some of the best days of their lives. We are given the opportunity to help our clients find productive ways to disconnect from the harmful parts of their family or reconnect with the people they have been missing. As they say, “it’s a beautiful day to save lives.”
Because this type of work can be absolutely emotionally draining, I was worried going into my internship that I wouldn’t be able to handle working with the population served by the Family Court Help Desk. I was so grateful that the interns around me became some of my best friends and, just like the interns at Grey Sloan, we quickly learned that the best way to make it through a tough day is to lean on your coworkers.
One other important part of our summer was when our supervisors at VLP took the time to speak with us about trauma-informed practices to use with our clients and ourselves as the vicarious trauma started to take a toll. I learned how to care for myself in the work, not just how to get the work done.
Just as it is in Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital, the actual work is only half the story. The connections you make while working at the Family Court Help Desk are what keep you going through the tough days. While walking around the family court you will see the attorneys, court officers, and court reporters are all talking about work, life, and everything in between. You might even find some matchmaking conspiracies to set up the single attorneys. The people here will spend their entire careers with each other and make connections that last a lifetime.
Just like the interns on Grey’s Anatomy learned that the nurses are really the key to patient care, the interns at the help desk quickly learned that the paralegals, interpreters, and court officers are really the key to making public interest work effective for our clients. I have learned that being kind to everyone you come in contact with can really make the difference when you are needing help in the future.
While the family court may not be as dramatic as the world of Grey’s Anatomy, it is surely as engaging. The work may be difficult but the results and the connections I have made through this fellowship really changed my perspective. It’s likely you’ll even see me and the other interns at the restaurant across the street from the courthouse relaxing with the family court attorneys sometime soon. I am deeply grateful to Hodgson Russ for the fellowship support that made this summer possible.
Name: Kirstin Sherman ’23
Name of Fellowship: Hodgson Russ, LLP 1L Summer Fellowship Award
Placement: ECBA Volunteer Lawyer Project’s Family Court Help Desk
Location: Buffalo, NY
One important lesson I have learned from this fellowship: “The connections you make while working at the Family Court Help Desk are what keep you going through the tough days.”