Every year, two or three Notre Dame Law School students spend their summers working as legal interns at DTE Energy in Detroit. The internship program was designed by Notre Dame alumna JoAnn Chavez ’86, ’90 J.D., senior vice president and chief legal officer at DTE. Her goal is to expose first-generation Black and Hispanic students to a variety of legal experiences and careers.
Five current Notre Dame Law students have interned with DTE during the summer after their first or second year of law school: Chloé Honey Moreno, Christian Palacios, and Joshua Previl from the class of 2022, and Shamalla Semoy and Teresita Rios from the class of 2023.
The students worked with attorneys across all of DTE’s in-house counsel practice groups, including litigation, regulatory, labor and employment, transactional, and securities. Their main responsibilities were drafting memoranda, writing notices and letters, and researching pertinent legal issues. Although the program was virtual for the past two summers, the students had numerous opportunities to attend oral arguments, as well as other meetings and negotiations.
For Rios, the internship was especially helpful to learn more about how in-house lawyers function, and about the various opportunities at DTE as an in-house counsel. She said the attorneys were all very approachable, and she was able to sit in on meetings with judges and attorneys.
DTE was very open to students exploring different practice areas to broaden their experiences and skills. The internship experience provided Palacios with an opportunity to explore labor and employment law and improve his legal writing skills.
Previl had opportunities to observe internal and external calls with opposing counsel. “This gave me an inside look at how issues are ironed out, and to observe some of the soft skills required of being an attorney,” he said.
Previl said the feedback he received on memos and other projects was especially helpful to develop his skills and learn how to apply legal documents to different audiences.
All the interns appreciated the opportunity to meet with a variety of judges and attorneys across all practice areas. This exposure helped students discover the type of law they may want to pursue, and those they may not prefer.
“The DTE internship helped me gain meaningful exposure to different areas of law, which is helpful for a 1L,” Semoy said. “The program was a main influence in me discovering, despite my initial thoughts, that I prefer litigation practice over transactional.”
For Moreno, too, the DTE experience was pivotal in discovering what area of the law she may want to practice.
“This was my first opportunity to discover what it truly means to be a transactional attorney,” Moreno said.
“I also learned what it is like to work in-house for a company, and was able to see the concepts I had learned in class put into practice,” she added. “It exposed me to securities litigation, which I was not even familiar with. This led me to take Securities Litigation, Enforcement, and Compliance with Professor Veronica Root Martinez, and to decide to pursue a compliance-related career in the legal profession after graduation.”
A central component of the DTE program is mentorship and building connections. Each student was assigned an attorney as a mentor to help define specific goals for the internship and post graduation. Palacios said through mentorship efforts, attorneys at DTE were able to connect him with lawyers in his target market of Chicago. For Rios, who is blind, her mentor connected her with a former classmate, who is also blind and working as an attorney.
Moreno’s mentor provided advice for on-campus interviews, best networking practices, and strategies to connect with individuals in her target market. She said that as a Mexican-American student, these things are extremely helpful. It also gave her the confidence to apply and be selected for a clerkship, something she was encouraged to pursue during her conversations with various DTE attorneys.
Students were able to meet with Chavez and are all very thankful for the experiences they had during the internship program. Chavez is a longtime supporter of women and Hispanic initiatives, especially in education, in her community and at Notre Dame.
In addition to the DTE internship program, Chavez established the Chávez Family Law Fellowship in 2015, a scholarship to benefit Hispanic students at the Law School.
This year’s recipient is first-year law student Javier Gomez. While an undergraduate at the University of Toledo, he was an accounting intern at DTE through an internship program Chavez also developed for under-represented college students. Gomez is the third student to benefit from the scholarship, which is awarded every three years. He is the first participant in the undergraduate program at DTE to attend Notre Dame Law School.
“I am passionate about seeing members of the Hispanic community achieve the same success as I have,” Chavez said. “The educational opportunities at Notre Dame transformed my life, and I want to offer that same opportunity to other Hispanic young people.”