Advocacy at Buffalo Legal Aid Bureau

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By Kerry Conner ’23

Upon beginning my internship in summer 2021 with the Buffalo Legal Aid Bureau’s Attorneys for Children Unit, I did not know what to expect. I believed that a lot of my summer internship experience would just involve silent observation. What I did not anticipate was how excited both judges and other attorneys were to have interns present. I was not treated as just an extra person in the courtroom, but as a valued member of the legal community. Everyone was so welcoming. They were especially interested in any questions I had, and wanted to know how they could add to my summer experience. As a result of these conversations I made so many connections throughout the Legal Aid units and in multiple Erie County courts. The most important part of my summer experience was meeting attorneys and support staff who were just as passionate about advocacy as I was.

My first week in the juvenile justice division of the Attorneys for Children Unit was mostly spent observing and familiarizing myself with the family court system and relevant law. At one point, I sat in on an attorney’s interview with a teenage client. The attorney’s emphasis that the teen, not their parent, was “the boss.” This reminded me of my time as a youth advocate where we stressed the importance of the youth’s voice. Over the summer, I would come to learn that this mentality was especially important when it came to cases in which the parent was the adverse party, often filing police reports against their children. Such a situation makes it critical that the teen has legal representation to advocate for their own interests. 

As the summer progressed the attorneys I was working with learned more about my personal career interests in public defense and appellate work. In order to give me the best experience possible, they began to make connections for me with other units at Legal Aid. I had some great discussions with the Post-Conviction Unit about my upcoming fall clinic which may involve working with some of their clients. Through a similar discussion with the Civil Unit, I was invited to shadow an attorney in Integrated Domestic Violence Court, which is also closely related to the clinic work I will be doing in the fall. The lawyer I was shadowing had experience advocating for victims of domestic violence as well as alleged perpetrators giving her an extensive view of each case. 

Finally, I was invited to watch an in-person trial which was a huge highlight of my summer. At this trial I was able to see the attorney I was shadowing advocate for a battered wife in a complex divorce case. Throughout law school and going into my internship I had very little interest in civil law. The collaboration and connections between the units at Legal Aid allowed me to see how many opportunities are out there to advocate and be a legal voice for clients in need.

Without my Freudenheim Fellowship I would have struggled to accept this unpaid position. I would like to thank my fellowship donor for giving me the funding to make this opportunity possible. I would also like to thank the University at Buffalo School of Law’s Summer Public Interest Funding & Fellowship Program.

Name: Kerry Conner ’23

Name of Fellowship:  Freudenheim Fellowship

Placement: Legal Aid Bureau’s Attorneys for Children Unit 

Location: Buffalo, NY

One important lesson I have learned from this fellowship: “The most important part of my summer experience was meeting attorneys and support staff who were just as passionate about advocacy as I was.”