Klau Center Summer Fellowships offer valuable hands-on legal training

Author: Kevin Fye

Summer Fellows Story

Each summer, the Klau Center provides funding for law students to serve internships with organizations that promote civil or human rights, and/or the enforcement of federal rights on behalf of underrepresented minorities. More than simply a chance to gain work experience, the fellowships provide a unique point of entry into a hands-on training environment few other summer positions can afford.

Often understaffed and eager to utilize the skills of impassioned law students, these organizations welcome interns as valued team members. 2020 Summer Fellow Madeline Mallaghan, working with the Shriver Center on Poverty Law in Chicago, was impressed with the level of work she was asked to take on.

Madeline CallaghanMadeline Callaghan

“I think definitely some of it was more hands-on than it might have been if I was at a big firm,” Callaghan says. “For example the immigration housing bill that we were trying to parse through, and come up with materials that we could distribute at a local town hall. I realized that the things I am writing down right now, and the ways that I am explaining what this legal document says, are going to be given to lots of people. I don't know that that's necessarily something that I would have been doing at a big firm. I don't think I would have been communicating what laws mean to lay people.”

Working with the Public Rights Project, based in Oakland, California, Summer Fellow Tommy Kozdron similarly experienced a high level of collaboration. “There was very much a sense of, how can we have the most possible impact within our budget, within our staffing? So I feel like I got to do more work and if it wasn't me doing it, I got to have more input on what other people were doing,” says Kozdron. “It felt very transparent and very open. They encouraged us to share our ideas and I really feel like we got to see like the big picture. Okay, we have this request; how might we want to do it? And then after we came up with a game plan, let's do the work together, let’s tailor it together, let's edit it together. I didn't feel like I've gotten into the middle of the process. I feel like I got to see it from beginning to end.”

Katherine CienkusKatherine Cienkus

Katherine Cienkus, who served an internship with Access Living in Chicago, found that even working virtually allowed for a significant amount of cooperation with the organization’s staff. “Because we were a small team of six or seven, we still worked closely together and it was a really engaging summer. I was so impressed with how much training and interaction I had with the other attorneys and with our clients,” says Cienkus. “I was on the phone a lot, I mediated disputes between landlords and tenants. We also worked on Zoom, but for the most part I worked from my room and I still felt like I engaged with the entire Chicago nonprofit disability community, which was incredible.”

The chance to engage as a full partner in meaningful legal work marked the fellows’ internships as particularly significant. For Callaghan, this included helping protect clients’ rights in a new legal reality. “There was a termination of parental rights case that we were looking into. And because now that everything's over Zoom, trying to figure out what people were entitled to in the courtroom, trying to figure out what case law could have for that, and writing a memo on what we might be able to ask the court for in this new weird legal world that we're in right now.”

Tommy KozdronTommy Kozdron

Kozdron found the variety of needs to be addressed fulfilling. “I got to do some work with the police team and was actually presenting in front of the state Attorney General's office. I did discrimination in health care, including policy literature review for the policy team. We worked on worker misclassification, in terms of independent contractor versus employees. What is the research, what might we want to have our offices advocate for as a replacement for the current test? It was always dynamic because you never knew what was going to come through the door that week, which I really loved.”

For Cienkus, the opportunity to engage directly with clients gave the internship an unexpected depth. “I had complete ownership over the consumers that were calling through intake. I was the one learning how to counsel and communicate with them, which was a really important skill that I think a lot of lawyers don't learn until they start practicing. So people would be very distressed, have had civil rights violations, and I was the first person they would share this with. So that kind of training, when it comes to legal counseling and advocacy, was very much unparalleled.”

Klau Center Summer Fellowships are open to first and second year Notre Dame law students, who receive funding to support travel and living expenses. A more in-depth conversation with the 2020 Summer Fellows can be found in this video interview.

Originally published by Kevin Fye at klau.nd.edu on March 15, 2021.