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Public Interest Internships Enrich Students

September 14, 2009

This summer, 26 USF law students engaged in Public Interest Law Foundation (PILF) sponsored internships at locations as diverse as the San Francisco Public Defender Office, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, the Homeless Action Center, and the Children's Law Center in Los Angeles.

Students that participated in the unpaid internships received $4,000 PILF grants from funds raised by the Donate-a-Day program and the Annual Gala Auction and Fundraiser.

The summer internships provided students insight on the rewards and challenges of working at nonprofit organizations and public interest offices.

For Christine Start 3L, her expectations entering the program were hardened by the difficult realities of the work. Start worked at the Contra Costa County Office of the Public Defender in the field of juvenile defense with minors accused of weapon possession, criminal threats to a police officer, sexual molestation, and other offenses.

"Juvenile work is demanding, frequently depressing, and requires significantly different skill and knowledge than that of felony and misdemeanor attorneys," Smart said. "I have learned that the abilities to be flexible and adaptable are a must and that preparation, work, and outcome are rarely equal."

Whether the students' experiences were filled with unexpected demands or encouraging results, the internships gave them valuable experience while working closely with members of the legal community and individuals in need of legal assistance.

Dana Isaac 2L interned at the nonprofit organization Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, which provides legal support to incarcerated individuals who are also parents. Isaac corresponded with and wrote motions for counsel for incarcerated women confused on the legal procedures regarding their termination of parental rights. She also testified at bill assemblies in Sacramento, arguing either for or against the passage of bills.

"The prison industrial complex targets low income people of color for incarceration and provides no services once they are released to help them integrate back into the community," Isaac said. "This summer I had the ability to work towards changing that. It may not be a huge change, but I left each day feeling as if I had genuinely helped someone who no one else would."