ND Law students stay on track with career goals by completing summer work programs virtually

Author: Denise Wager

Jacquelinelao 2020summer

When the Covid-19 pandemic began sweeping the country this spring, law firms, government agencies, nonprofits, and other employers were forced to reevaluate their summer associate and intern programs for law students. Many of those programs ultimately required students to work remotely.

Despite the challenges, Notre Dame Law School students were able to continue advancing on their career paths during this unusual summer. More than 350 rising second- and third-year students completed summer associate programs, internships, and research assistant positions at more than 250 organizations throughout the country.

“While many of our students were naturally disappointed to miss out on an in-person experience this summer, the resiliency they and their employers demonstrated in constructing and completing meaningful virtual internship experiences was quite impressive,” said Vincent Versagli, director of career development at Notre Dame Law School.

Six ND Law students share about their 2020 summer work experiences.

‘Here we think like a different kind of lawyer’

Nate Hanna, 2L
Intern, Magistrate Judge William H. Baughman, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio

Nate Hanna

It would be fair to say that many students, including myself, were nervous about our summer experiences due to the global pandemic. However, my online judicial internship with Magistrate Judge Baughman ’74 J.D. of the Northern District of Ohio proved incredibly rewarding. As a graduate of Notre Dame Law School, he showed that “here we think like a different kind of lawyer.”

Along with two other interns, I participated virtually in criminal hearings, oral arguments, and mediations with discussions and debriefings after each. Multiple daily video-calls created a “virtual workplace” where we collaborated on projects ranging from habeas corpus petitions to orders for venue transfer. Thanks to law clerk Dennis Terez, we had the opportunity to talk to the co-director of the capital habeas unit, a federal public defender, a U.S. attorney, and numerous federal district and appellate judges.

Overall, I found my virtual summer experience to be challenging, rewarding, and inspiring!

Unique opportunities presented themselves

Marquan Robertson, 2L
Summer Associate, Reed Smith LLP, Philadelphia

Marquan Robertson

A lot of what made my summer both worthwhile and successful was going into it with the same positive attitude I would have had if it were still in-person. Accepting the situation for what it was early in the summer allowed me to pivot and work on building relationships with attorneys and staff virtually through Zoom, phone calls, and other formats. I was able to identify people I really wanted to work with, get assignments from them, and have the same type of learning experience because of the proactive mindset I had throughout the internship.

There were many unique opportunities that presented themselves in this online format, some that I might not have taken advantage of in a typical summer. Reed Smith allowed every summer associate the opportunity to work one-on-one with an assigned writing coach on an internal memo assignment. This was the first summer Reed Smith offered this opportunity, and it allowed me to build a relationship with an experienced attorney while understanding how memo-writing and brief-writing really works in an actual work environment.

I was also able to sit in on a series of Zoom sessions dedicated to wellness and maintaining good mental and physical help in such a demanding job.

A hybrid approach on federal prosecution projects

Caroline Wenzel, 2L
Legal Intern, U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Massachusetts

Caroline Wenzel

I was a criminal division intern at the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts this summer. The program offered a hybrid approach, where interns could work remotely one week and then come into the office the next. With masks and social distancing measures in place, I was fortunate enough to work with my team and meet some of the other interns.

The intern committee kept the program as similar to previous years as they could by hosting networking events and weekly WebEx check-ins. The most memorable WebEx was with Andrew Lelling, U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts, who answered our questions about police brutality and institutional racism.

I was placed in the Public Corruption and Special Prosecutions Unit and spent part of my time analyzing evidence for a fraud investigation. The assistant U.S. attorney I worked with on the investigation was a wonderful mentor, and I learned so much about the process of federal prosecutions. My most memorable project related to the college admissions scandal case.

Despite the circumstances, I could not have asked for a more rewarding internship.

Team-building and making connections

Zahraa Nasser, 2L
Summer Associate, Ropes & Gray LLP, Chicago

Zahraa Nasser

I was a summer associate for Ropes & Gray LLP in Chicago. The entire program was moved virtually and for five weeks I took part in orientation, training, team-building exercises, and pro-bono client meetings. I had a great experience. Ropes & Gray did a great job of ensuring regular team-building events and avenues for virtually connecting with people in the office to still get a good feel of the firm’s culture. We started every day with a “Connecting Chicago” email thread in which one featured member of the Chicago office would share how they're spending their time in quarantine, including fun photos of their puppies and families. 

Answering an urgent need for legal services

Jacqueline Lau, 2L
Summer Law Clerk, Legal Aid and Defender’s Association of Detroit

Jacqueline Lau

My work, funded by the Women’s Legal Forum’s Summer Stipend Program, focused mainly on family law and public benefits cases. Throughout the summer, I spoke directly with clients, conducted research, and aided attorneys with drafting motions — all from the comfort of my patio! (See the photo at the top of this page.)

While working remotely was not the way I expected this summer to go, the pandemic created an urgent and increased need for legal services among the disproportionately affected, low-income residents of the metro Detroit area.

Given the circumstances, I am even more thankful I was able to serve my local community and represent Notre Dame Law School during this difficult time. Helping these individuals, specifically survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, was especially meaningful to me and reflective of the Women’s Legal Forum ideals.

Fighting for children, parents, and caretakers

Ellen Baker, 2L
Intern, Committee for Public Counsel Services, Boston

Ellen Baker

I spent this summer interning with the Children and Family Law Division of the Committee for Public Counsel Services. Although it was a totally remote internship, it was a great experience. I had the opportunity to assist the attorneys in advocating for their clients by writing motions, doing research, and drafting interrogatories and requests for documents. I was also able to sit in on adoption hearings and meetings with social workers and clients.

The work that the division does to help fight for children, parents, and caretakers is incredibly important, especially during Covid-19. Many difficulties in the living situations of these families arose due to the quarantine, and the division had to address these newfound issues head on. For example, due to Covid-19, the Department of Children shut down all in-person visits. Forging the parent-child bond is extremely important. I drafted several motions throughout the summer for parenting time, so that this bonding time would be reinstated as soon as possible.

Ellenbaker 2020summer

In addition, we explored the feasibility of other options such as video calls, and the difficulties parents and caretakers face when trying to coordinate these calls, especially when access to internet or phone service is not readily available. We also encountered many issues with children and parents attending their normal therapy sessions and continuing their growth in their recovery. We helped our clients to work through this with as much support as possible. It was truly a great experience being able to contribute to the community I grew up in, and advocate for families who are struggling during this tough time. My internship was funded by the Women’s Legal Forum’s Summer Stipend Program.