Summer fellowships enable ND Law students to explore careers in religious practice

Author: Denise Wager

Css Summer Fellows Clockwise from top left: Margo Borders, Lauren Andrini, Robert Sikorski, and Catherine Gawron share their summer fellowship experiences.

Four Notre Dame Law School students spent their summer exploring legal issues at religiously affiliated institutions and gained hands-on experience at the intersection of law and religion. The summer fellowships were funded by the Law School’s Program on Church, State & Society.

“The goal of the fellowship program is to allow students to experience first-hand the variety of career options that combine law and religion and involve legal services to religious institutions of all types,” said Richard Garnett, the Paul J. Schierl/Fort Howard Corporation Professor of Law and director of the Program on Church, State & Society.

Cassie Gawron worked as an extern in the Office of Legal Services at Presence Health where she worked on a variety of healthcare-related legal projects, including labor and employment issues, physician conflicts, and property tax exemption applications.

“I knew that I wanted to pursue a summer externship that would give me transactional healthcare experience during my 1L summer and I was fortunate that Presence Health fit these requirements while also being an organization that reflected my Catholic faith,” Gawron said. “The benefit of working in an in-house environment was that I saw a large variety of legal issues come through the door, which gave me exposure that is difficult to receive during the first year of law school.​”

Gawron feels her experience at Presence has already made her more marketable for future employment and has helped her with job interviews.

“The experience I was able to receive at Presence Health so early in my legal career has distinguished me from other candidates because I worked in a job that supported my specific legal interest in healthcare law, rather than a more general externship experience.”

Lauren Andrini interned at the General Counsel’s office at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, D.C.

Andrini was able to work with the seven different attorneys at USCCB who specialize in a different area of the law. She did preliminary research for an amicus brief that USCCB submitted to the U.S. Supreme Court in the _Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission_ case.

She also completed state-by-state surveys in criminal law, the right to publicity/privacy, and employment discrimination. And, she had the opportunity to write several immigration law briefs that were published in the Conference Law Briefs Newsletter.

“My father works for the Catholic Church so it has always been an important part of my life, but seeing the inner workings of the Church was fascinating. It was interesting to see the Church from both a policy and a business standpoint, and to understand the important role USCCB plays on both fronts,” Andrini said. “It was an incredible learning experience and I’m grateful to have been given this opportunity.”

Margo Borders was motivated to work for a religious organization to learn how church and state interact from a legal perspective.

“As I former theology student I thought this fellowship would be a great way to merge my interests in religion and the law and to experience religious organization practice early in my legal career. This type of practice is something I am interested in being involved with in the future, so this fellowship and exposure was an amazing opportunity,” Borders said.

Borders served at the Archdiocese of Chicago Office of Legal Services and worked closely with the attorneys in the office assisting in legal research, drafting documents, and writing memoranda. She attended hearings, gave legal presentations at local parishes, and did trainings on immigration and juvenile law.

“While working on very practical, substantive, and important legal issues that touched every area of church life, I was able to see how the law interacted with a religious institution on many levels,” she said. “Working within a not-for-profit, religious organization creates an added layer of challenge to each case, and I learned so much from working through each challenge.”

Robert Sikorski interned with Catholic Charities Legal Assistance in Chicago, which functions as a legal aid office. CCLA provides a telephone advice line which connects pro se litigants to volunteer attorneys and provides free in-house representation to a small number of clients.

“As an intern with CCLA I was able to obtain valuable legal experience while serving low-income residents of Chicago,” Sikorski said.

The interns answered the CCLA’s advice line telephone and conducted an initial legal interview with the client, Sikorski said. They then sat in on the client consultation with the attorneys, where they could see the effectiveness of their intake interviews. Sikorski also wrote legal memoranda on conflict of interest issues, minor travel to Mexico with one-parent consent, and Illinois’ adoption of the income shares model of child support.

“I had a great summer experience where I received quality work assignments that expanded my legal knowledge and tested my abilities, while contributing to CCLA’s mission of providing access to legal assistance to low-income members of the Chicago area.”

Sikorski said he is grateful for the Church, State & Society fellowship, which enabled him to pursue this internship.

“At NDLS we try to educate a ‘different kind of lawyer,’” Garnett said. “Allowing students to explore how law and faith influence each other within different organizations is one opportunity to do that.”