Public Interest Law

This is the next in a series of posts by recipients of the Career Services Summer Funding Grant. We’ve asked funding recipients to reflect on their summer experiences and talk about the industries in which they’ve been spending their summer. You can read the entire series here.

This entry is by Olivia Graham, COL ’17

This summer I interned at the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia, in the hopes that I would increase my understanding of both law and the nonprofit sector. The Public Interest Law Center is a nonprofit that uses high impact legal strategies to protect the rights of marginalized communities in the Philadelphia area.

A large part of my job consisted of policy and issue research, which was notably rewarding in that it allowed me to expand my understanding of the Law Center’s six major advocacy areas as well as the political processes of Philadelphia. This research also gave me the opportunity to work with large amounts of data and required me to find creative ways to answer questions unique to the Law Center’s endeavors. This was great practice for the senior research project that I’ll conduct this coming semester as an Urban Studies major.

Another set of my responsibilities consisted of processing consultation requests. These are the cases brought to the Law Center that they then refer out to other legal organizations, for various reasons. It allowed me to begin to understand which cases or issues may have legal solutions and which ones may not. It, and the meetings that I attended and the work I saw being done, allowed me to explore my idea of law as a unique theory of change.

During my time at the Law Center, I was exposed to many different aspects of the Law Center’s issue areas, and definitely have a better understanding of the legal practice, but would have loved the chance to see more of the nuts and bolts of the practicing component. Each legal intern was assigned a staff attorney to whom they reported for the duration of the summer. I worked for almost every staff member, at least once, and was exposed to many different issue areas, though I primarily worked under the Executive Director.

The highlight of my experience was definitely getting to work with accomplished and socially-minded staff here; I learned a lot just from starting conversations and asking questions. I also really enjoyed getting to attend board meetings and accompanying the Executive Director to various meetings – I’m very interested in pursuing law but I’m also interested in non-profit management, and the latter was much easier for me to explore here given my position as an undergraduate student.

The public interest law field is extremely varied and no two organizations in the same city do the same thing, much less approach issues in the same way. It was an invaluable experience to get to work around attorneys who have been advocating for civil rights since the seventies – who have seen landmark cases passed and kept working, both through litigation and through advocacy, because they know that changing the law is only the first step in changing any type of inequality.

Author: Student Perspective

Views and opinions from current Penn students.