So far, the work that I have done at PLA has been very administrative. Surprisingly, this has been very helpful in my experience learning about Family Law. I am a somewhat restless person- despite me thinking of myself as a very patient person. I wanted to immediately dive into client intake and getting to work on my own. At the same time, I felt uncomfortable with the idea of helping others with my lack of experience. It almost feels like being thrown into a shark tank. The small interview rooms with their claustrophobic space being the tank and the intimidating complicated situations of the clients being the sharks. It is difficult to state whether or not I am ready, but not unlike other situations where I have felt this way, the best possible way to go about this is to simply dive in.
For example, when I once had to help people at the Court Help Center, every gland in my body started acting up. My heart raced, it was like I was being interrogated. However, by the third or fourth time, I felt comfortable enough to give answers but also confident enough to say “I do not know” and answer questions. Eventually, I worked my way to being incredibly confident in my answers. So much so that I am able to work the Help Center by myself.
Another important task in my internship is answering the Hotline in Spanish. When observing the paralegals it looked incredibly difficult because they spoke so fluidly and sounded extremely well-rehearsed. At first, I was nervous about that too, but so far, I have been able to handle it with grace and dignity as well.
Taking in clients’ cases is a whole different monster, however. There is a formation of some sort of personal relationship that exceeds simply regurgitating legal information to the client. Longer-lasting bonds happen when working with a client’s case at PLA. That is why I feel both excited and scared at the same time.
From this fellowship, I expected to learn a lot from the people that I would be working with 30 hours a week. This week I was surprised to find out that I have learned more about the people that I meet with for an hour and a half every 2 weeks or so.
I think this has a lot to do with the fact that I work very closely with the other interns and lawyers in a very professional setting. While with the Civic House Fellows, we were prompted questions that forced us to bring forth our most personal thoughts and ideas about the internship. Through this, you can learn a lot about the internship. Philadelphia Legal Assistance is a great place for helping others, and getting to know the people that you are helping. However, getting to know each other seems to be more of a concerted effort.
This Friday, PLA saw four very important people leave. The executive director, Anita, mentioned that in July a couple more would be leaving. Within this past couple of weeks, I have been counting familiar faces and losing 4 people in a week is rough. A bit of a surprise to myself, everyone seemed to be very emotional about losing their coworkers- two of which had been at PLA for less than a year.
That is perhaps what I look forward to the most. I enjoy working in a very open environment, where collaboration is key in order to accomplish things and get them done right the first time. I am a big fan of efficiency and as such, I think that the best way to get things done is to cooperate. Have spaces for open questions. To an extent, this is done through PLA’s “Open Door” policy. Wherein, doors to everyone’s office must remain open unless meeting with a client or speaking on the phone. All clues point to a more suitable working environment fitting to my personality in time.
At the Cast Iron Building on 7th and Arch Streets in Center City Philadelphia, altruistic lawyers attempt to balance their passion for helping under-resourced Philadelphians with their most challenging cases ranging from custody hearings to accusations of severe domestic violence.
The culture here is completely the opposite of that on campus. Here self-help is not a presumed natural ability, nor is thinking about other’s stifling one’s own career path. I was drawn to spend my summer here for this exact reason. I was drawn to the value provided by this experience. But more importantly, I was drawn to the idea of being able to help people who have had experiences similar to mine.
At PLA, those with money are rejected. Those with simpler cases are put on the backburner. The most important client is determined by need. The horrible stories that one encounters here are gruesome. The life stories worthy material for a best-selling book. I am drawn to PLA for the possibility of transitioning from being a victim to being my own person is perhaps the most important aspect at this point in my life.
I am a year from graduating from college, and all of the past experiences will no longer be a part of my future. I see this summer as an opportunity to pay my dues to my community, which extends far across the country. To all of those in need of assistance, or at least lend an emphatic ear.