By: Deanna McConnell ’24
First, I want to sincerely thank the donors of the Kaplan and Reynolds Summer Fellowship. Without the Buffalo Public Interest Law Program and generous community members, I would not have had the financial stability to pursue an internship this Summer in the public interest sector, so thank you for affording me this opportunity. I would also like to thank the Civil Unit at The Legal Aid Bureau of Buffalo for taking me under their wing this Summer. The staff was incredible for patiently teaching me, alongside other interns, the ins and outs of matrimonials and housing law.
I specifically requested to shadow the housing team because I understood that the need for representation in eviction matters stretched across the state, from my friends and family in Manhattan to Buffalo. All were anxious about the dawning consequences of the eviction moratorium being lifted and a looming recession. Even before the pandemic, according to a 2020 report by the Partnership for the Public Good, a think tank affiliated with Cornell University, “[t]he City of Buffalo faced an eviction crunch…Roughly 13% of Buffalo renters faced eviction in a single year – a higher rate than most peer cities. Today, nearly 600,000 New York households are behind on rent, with a total estimated debt of nearly $2 billion, according to an analysis of census data by the National Equity Atlas, a research group based at the University of Southern California.” (News take action. Partnership for the Public Good. (n.d.). Retrieved August 11, 2022, https://ppgbuffalo.org/news-and-events/news/article:01-04-2022-12-00am-buffalo-news-deluge-of-eviction-cases-expected-as-moratorium-nears-its-end/)
Under the supervision of the housing team’s attorneys, I completed initial intake meetings in Buffalo City Court with residents at risk of losing their homes. These first sessions were crucial to learning the specific needs of each client and developing plans that centered on negotiating payment schedules, extended move-out dates, and mutual terminations for their housing circumstances. In addition to counseling clients during their court appearances, Legal Aid had food bank and emergency rental assistance funding sources we were able to provide.
Interns in the Civil Unit had practice orders, meaning we could actually represent clients during these first appearances. Interns would work either to have the cases dismissed or adjourned after issue-spotting petitions and speaking with clients and opposing counsel. If the case could not be dismissed or withdrawn during the initial appearance, attorneys would guide us through representing the client until we could reach the best solution for our client’s future. I worked directly with clients to help them apply for rental assistance and subsidized housing programs. I also assisted with new employment and housing opportunities.
I sought this fellowship so I could research the law and argue on behalf of community members. By giving people in impossible circumstances an advocate in an often-dizzying court system, we provided them, in my opinion, a possibility of a reset after the pandemic hardships. The opportunity to intern at The Legal Aid Bureau of Buffalo has reaffirmed my desire to pursue a career in public interest law following graduation from the University of Buffalo School of Law.
Thank you again for your donation and for allowing me to work under the kind and brilliant attorneys Nadine Patterson, Lillian Medina-Zelazny, Alan Williams, and Jennifer McCann. Thank you to the paralegals Lisa Overton, LaTonia Graham, and Jessica Betance for making the office welcoming daily. And lastly, but most certainly not least, thank you to my fellow University at Buffalo Law School students, Alicia Artis, Zachary Buncy, Brandon Small, and Michael Lieberman, for being great cubicle mates this Summer.
Name: Deanna McConnell ’24
Name of Fellowship: Kaplan and Reynolds Summer Fellowship
Placement: The Legal Aid Bureau of Buffalo, Civil Unit
Location: Buffalo, NY
One important lesson I have learned from this fellowship: “I sought this fellowship so I could research the law and argue on behalf of community members. By giving people in impossible circumstances an advocate in an often-dizzying court system, we provided them, in my opinion, a possibility of a reset after the pandemic hardships.”