Summer at Legal Aid

Posted by

By: Zachary Buncy ’24

Over the past summer, I had the incredible opportunity to work at the Legal Aid Bureau of Buffalo’s civil unit, helping to provide free civil legal services to individuals in Western New York who would not have access to these services otherwise. This opportunity was made possible by a generous fellowship that was awarded to me by the University at Buffalo School of Law Class of 1979. I cannot emphasize enough how grateful I am to my donors for this award and the opportunity that it provided me.

My experience with the Legal Aid Bureau began last October, during my first semester as a 1L, when I applied for an internship in their criminal defense unit. I had come into law school knowing that I was most interested in criminal law and wanted to do public interest work, so it was the obvious first choice. However, when I applied, I was told that generally they did not hire first year students for criminal internships. At that point, I didn’t really have a clear idea as to what my backup plan would be, but luckily, I was referred to Legal Aid’s civil unit, where applied and was accepted.

I started my internship at Legal Aid without much of a clear idea as to what I should expect, but almost from the start, I was thrown into the action. Within my first few days at Legal Aid, I was already talking to clients, drafting legal documents, and working on research assignments to assist clients who otherwise would not have access to legal services, mostly involving matrimonial and housing law. However, the highlight of my experience at Legal Aid was by far the Attorney of the Morning program.

Attorney of the Morning happened every Wednesday morning. An assortment of housing attorneys, interns, and paralegals would go to the Buffalo City Court on Wednesday mornings to represent clients who were facing eviction proceedings but lacked legal representation. It was an extremely fast-paced and stressful environment, in which we tried to get as much information as possible from one client after another.  For each of them, we were trying to build the strongest case going forward to prevent them from getting evicted. Facing an eviction action and going to housing court is one of the most stressful and terrifying experiences a person can ever face, and it was our job to help and guide people through what was most likely one of the darkest points of their lives. It was a harrowing and humbling experience meeting with and working with clients in such dark circumstances and hearing their stories.

In law school, it can be easy to forget exactly what the law actually is and the impact it has. It is easy to see the law as just an abstract collection of rules and case names, but the law can have a huge impact on real people’s lives, whether for better or for worse. As members of the legal community, I believe that it is our job to use the law as a tool as best we can to make a positive difference. To that end, I am proud of my work at the Legal Aid Bureau of Buffalo and grateful for the opportunity I had this past summer. I believe I was able to provide some real, meaningful help to people who had nowhere else to turn, and that is exactly what I want my legal career to be. And so once again, I want to thank the Legal Aid Bureau of Buffalo, the Buffalo Public Interest Law Program, and the Class of 1979 Fellowship for providing me this unique experience.

Name: Zachary Buncy ’24

Name of Fellowship: Class of 1979 Fellowship

Placement: Legal Aid Bureau of Buffalo, Civil Unit

Location: Buffalo, NY

One important lesson I have learned from this fellowship: “I believe I was able to provide some real, meaningful help to some people who had nowhere else to turn, and that is exactly what I want my legal career to be.”