The Women's Legal Forum provides summer funding through one of its signature programs, the Women's Empowerment Stipend.
Each stipend recipient is someone who pursues unpaid public interest work over the summer, and has been dedicated to advancing the Women's Legal Forum mission of empowering, educating, and supporting women at Notre Dame Law School and beyond. Usually, these stipends are funded through fundraising efforts at the annual Father Mike Show, a variety show put on by law students with the help of the Notre Dame Law School faculty. Below read about the 2020 recipients in their own words.
This summer I worked at Access Living, a disability rights organization in Chicago. Access Living has a small legal component, which focuses on civil rights and fair housing. I spent the summer quite busy from the little desk at home. I conducted intake for our clients, 98% of whom are low income individuals with disabilities. I mediated landlord-tenant disputes, wrote demand letters to property management companies requesting reasonable accommodations, drafted briefs for the Chicago Commission on Human Relations, and conducted legal research on discrimination in the zoning process for recovery homes in a Chicago suburb. Further, we advocated for the continued eviction moratorium that now is in effect until August 22nd in Illinois. One particular example is I helped a man who lived in a 3rd floor unit and uses a wheelchair. Since the only elevator in his building was out of service for a month, he had not been able to get out. His goal was to go to a 4th of July barbecue, which I successfully achieved by sending a demand letter to property management and calling multiple parties on his behalf! Thank you so much for your generosity in making this possible!
This Summer I have been working remotely for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the General Counsel for the Midwest Region. Thus far, I have drafted a Motion for Summary Judgement for an employment discrimination case and conducted regulatory research pertaining to COVID-19 infection control in nursing homes. Ensuring that nursing homes are held accountable for elder care has certainly been a rewarding and important experience. Although this has been an unusual summer, remote work has allowed me to log in from my family's farm in the Berkshire mountains. So when I am not working on legal matters, I am typically pitching hay and helping out with the cows!
This summer I worked in the San Francisco Superior Court in the Complex Civil Litigation Department. This department has historically been male-dominated, both in San Francisco courts and in courts around the country. I worked with one of the few female judges in the department, a judge who is committed to increasing diversity — particularly among women — in the complex civil litigation practice. I was able to better my community this summer by helping the court run more efficiently and increasing female representation in the department. Furthermore, one of the projects I worked on involved sealing documents, I worked to ensure that the public right of access was protected and that companies such as Wells Fargo, Cisco, Blue Shield, Aetna, and others were not sealing more information than was necessary for their trade secret protection, thereby ensuring that the community had open access to non-protectable information, as is their right. Furthermore, I helped to research novel issues related to employment law in the gig-economy, pushing the legal envelope to provide protections for those involved in the San Francisco gig-economy (such as Uber, Lyft, Instacart, and others). Lastly, I researched monitor diversity in settlement agreements, to ensure that a $400+ settlement with a 10-13 year monitor contract would entail a detailed plan for diversity hiring (geared toward both increasing female and minority representation). Overall, this was an invaluable experience that would not have been possible without WLF and the generous support of the Notre Dame staff. Thank you!
I worked at the Erie County District Attorney’s Office this summer, in the Homicide Bureau. Most of my work involved helping the attorneys in the office prepare for the upcoming deluge of grand jury presentments that are being scheduled following the closure of the courts due to COVID-19. Because this shutdown put a “pause” on almost all the day to day court activities, it was especially important that research questions were answered so the grand juries could be scheduled and defendants could receive their due process. Working in homicide, every case that I was assigned to was especially important in protecting victims and their families and helping society get justice. I was truly grateful to have the opportunity that I did to work in this office this summer and I would not have been able to do it without the financial assistance from Women’s Legal Forum and the donors to the stipend this year!
This summer, I was a Legal Intern at the Arlington County Circuit Court. I helped the local Northern Virginia community by conducting legal research that assisted the court's judges and law clerks in determining what outcomes for their cases would best protect the local public community and the victims of civil and criminal violations. I also helped determine next steps for defendants who needed mental health treatment and wanted to participate in programs that helped rehabilitate and reintroduce them to the local community. Thank you again for the financial support that WLF provided this summer! It has been immensely helpful.
This summer I had the opportunity to intern for the Legal Aid and Defender’s Association of Detroit, Michigan. My work 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! 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 during this difficult time. Helping these individuals, specifically survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, was especially meaningful to me and reflective of WLF’s ideals. I am sincerely grateful for the generosity of the NDLS faculty and staff for funding the WLF Summer Stipend Program and helping make my summer a memorable one!
This summer I had the opportunity to intern for Judge Jane Boyle in the US District Court for the Northern District of Texas. Unfortunately, due to coronavirus, my second internship with the Dallas County Public Defender was canceled. This summer was still an incredible experience with Judge Boyle despite being entirely remote. A great deal of my work focused on drafting and reviewing orders for compassionate relief because of the rapid spread of coronavirus in prisons. This allowed me to focus on those most vulnerable in our criminal justice system and how the pandemic substantially affects the incarcerated. I plan to pursue a career in criminal defense and this internship will make me a better advocate and lawyer going forward. I am incredibly grateful for the generosity and support of the NDLS faculty and staff this summer. Thank you for supporting WLF's Summer Stipend Program and helping to make this opportunity possible for me!
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 this time of COVID-19. Many difficulties in the living situations of these families have arisen due to the quarantine, and the division has had to address these newfound issues head on. For example, due to COVID-19, the Department of Children shut down all in person visits. Especially with extremely young children, 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. Additionally, 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, which we helped our clients to work through with as many supports 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. The WLF stipend helped make this possible and I am incredibly grateful.
This summer I interned for Judge David Cunis, the First Justice for the Middlesex District Court in Framingham, Massachusetts. Fortunately, I was able to intern in person at the Framingham District Courthouse, but unfortunately, the courthouse itself was not open to the public until the last weeks of my internship. I enjoyed going in every day at the courthouse and working in the empty courtrooms, even if it would have been more exciting with the public hustle and bustle!
My work this summer consisted of two opinions for Judge Cunis, who, in addition to working as a district court judge in Middlesex County, also sits on the Massachusetts Appellate Division. This court reviews cases from certain District Court civil actions, such as money damages and summary judgement cases. These cases are appealable to the Massachusetts Appeals Court, but this division itself is actually governed by the Massachusetts rules for District and Municipal courts. It is a unique, in-between court that manages appeals but does not prevent the cases from review in the Appeals Court or Supreme Judicial Court.
The Massachusetts Appellate Division meets quarterly and hears about a dozen or so cases at each sitting. This summer, I worked on the opinions from Judge Cunis’s December and February sittings of the court. The first case for which I wrote an opinion was a motion for summary judgment, in which an insurance company had been awarded summary judgment after a hospital sued for the balance of an insured patient’s medical bills. The patient had not submitted to the insurance company’s request for an examination under oath, which was a statutory requirement for payment of medical bills, and so the Judge affirmed summary judgment for the insurance company. I really enjoyed working on this case because I was able to become familiar with an extremely common statute in Massachusetts case law. The second opinion I worked on was mental health case about a young man who was appealing an expired involuntary treatment order. I learned a lot working on this opinion because there was no case directly on point to the issue, so I really had to utilize my first-year legal research and writing skills to go outside the box and craft a strong opinion.
I was told that under normal circumstances, the majority of my internship would have been sitting in on hearings, jury selection, and veterans or drug court. Because the courthouse was closed from the pandemic, the majority of my internship was working on the two opinions. However, I was able to sit in on a couple of restraining orders and plea hearings over telephone and zoom. Even though I was not able to see anything live, I learned a lot about the way the district court works and how the judges viewed certain repetitive activities. For example, there were at least half a dozen or so restraining orders every day. I would hear the judges sometimes chat behind the scenes about what they really thought of the petitioner, or the facts of the case, and it often was not good.
Nevertheless, in every single restraining order I sat in on, the order was either granted or extended. This gave me some hope in the system. Although the judge might have his own personal feelings about the petitioner or her case, if the law demands that he grant the restraining order, then the petitioner will prevail.
I am incredibly grateful that I was able to complete an internship this summer, and even more grateful to the faculty of Notre Dame and the Women’s Legal Forum for financially empowering me to have success in my internship. I look forward to being back at Notre Dame Law School with this hands-on experience and have another successful academic year.
This summer, I worked with PILnet, a public interest organization in New York that works to provide access to legal resources to non-profit organizations working on human rights issues around the world. I specifically worked on the global clearinghouse that focuses on creating partnerships through legal networks to provide pro bono support on issues ranging from PPP small business loans amidst the COVID-19 crisis, to providing legal aid for protection of vulnerable communities in various regions, including Eurasia, Latin America, and Southeast Asia. I worked to build and strengthen the network of public and private lawyers to help strengthen civil society and communities served by the non-profit organizations we worked with, which included hosting webinars and training for young lawyers. Providing access to legal resources is important now more than ever in these urgent times, and this opportunity allowed me to get a glimpse of pro bono work at law firms, as well as the legal aspects of nonprofit organizations. Thank you so much for your invaluable support!