Top 3 Reasons Every Law Student Should Work at a Legal Aid Organization at Some Point During their Law School Career
My name is Diana Estrada, and I am currently a last semester 3L at Stetson Law. I work as an Intake Specialist at Community Law Program, a non-profit that provides free legal services to low-income residents of Pinellas County. Specifically, I work for the Pinellas Eviction Diversion Program, where we help people in need of rental assistance to avoid eviction and, ultimately, homelessness. Though I am still a new employee, I have already learned so much, and I am convinced that each and every law student should try this at least once. Whether it be through a job, an internship, or pro bono, there are countless reasons why law students should work at a legal aid. Here are my top three reasons:
1. You get to help so many people in dire need of help.
When you work for a legal aid organization, the clients are people who probably wouldn’t be able to get legal help from an attorney if not for the existence of the organization. What better way to make use of the skills you’ve learned in law school than to help those in your community. As future attorneys, we have an obligation to do all that we can to ensure that everyone has access to the legal system. Legal aids are a way to do that, and the privilege of being a law student is one that can benefit not only ourselves, but others as well.
I often interact with clients who tell me, “I’ve never had to get this kind of help before.” In this position, you get to be a source of comfort for people really going through a hard time, and let them know that there is no shame in getting help when you need it. That’s why we’re here!
2. You grow exponentially, both personally and professionally.
Obviously, by working for a legal aid, you learn about how a law office works, about the particular area(s) of law in which you are working, and you gain transferrable skills that will help you throughout your time to come in the legal profession. You also get the opportunity to make some great connections with like-minded legal professionals, and meet some great mentors – and friends, of course.
Additionally, sometimes you speak to clients who arrive at the lowest point in their lives. It can be difficult learning to balance empathy and being sensitive to their situation, while also trying to move along so that you can get all of the relevant information so that the attorneys can help them. It is a useful skill to learn, both for the legal profession, and in life in general.
3. You get to be a part of something bigger than yourself.
One thing I hear many clients say is, “I didn’t even know organizations like this existed.” To me, this emphasizes the need for community care, and it’s something that legal aids are able to help provide. Help is out there for people who need it, and it’s an honor to get to be a part of that help. To say this work is rewarding is too small a statement to describe the true sentiment I am trying to convey. “Rewarding” almost makes it sound like I’m in it for myself. But the truth is, most of the people working in these organizations are not in it for themselves. You meet people who truly care about helping people first and foremost, which can be a rare thing to witness in law school, and in life in general. At times, it’s easy to get caught up in all the things you could not do for a client. However, you also get to take a step back and look at all of the clients the organization has been able to help, and how many lives have been improved because of it. None of this work is in vain.
These are just a few reasons why law students should work for a legal aid at some point during their law school career. I may be biased, but I love this work, especially at Community Law Program. I would highly recommend this job to any of my fellow law students, any and all help is always appreciated.