By Ashley Jayne, Legal Hotline Intern
My experience at Elder Law of Michigan was not what I expected. As a legal intern, I thought I would be spending my summer writing briefs and doing legal research. I was not very familiar with the role of a legal aid organization and had little expectations to interact with clients. Though my experience at Elder Law of Michigan was not what I expected, it has been more valuable than I could have imagined.
At the beginning of the summer, interns at Elder Law of Michigan were told “every day is like a law school exam.” However, the human piece of interacting with clients makes that part of the job arguably harder than a law school exam. Law school exams themselves do not get emotional. One never has to wonder if there is any relevant information outside of the fact pattern on an exam. Clients (understandably) get emotional. Clients may tell their stories quickly, and out of order. They sometimes omit information because they are embarrassed or do not realize that it is relevant. Sometimes their stories change. Because of this, attorneys and interns at Elder Law of Michigan must think on their feet and be ready to ask questions.
These challenges have pushed me to change the way I approach issue spotting. It has caused me to think more carefully about what the client is saying, and to consider the implications of every word they say. I have learned to err on the side of caution and always get more information than necessary, rather than gather less information and not have enough to give the client an answer.
Working directly with clients has also challenged me to consider the ethics of practice and the minefield of potential issues. I learned very quickly to tread lightly. By experience, I learned to always look for a potential conflict of interest, and to be continuously vigilant throughout the case. I also had to learn to ask for help when I was unsure. At times, I had to consider the difference between morals and ethics and learned that they are not always one in the same. However, the most challenging part for me was not allowing my sense of empathy to get in the way of logically approaching the issues at hand.
Working for Elder Law of Michigan has also given me valuable insight to the world of legal aid, and all that it entails. There is an overwhelming spirit in this office, despite that it runs with less money and resources than a for-profit firm.
People at Elder Law of Michigan come to work every day, ready to make a difference for those who cannot afford legal help. As I worked both as a legal intern and had a hand in the Communications Team, I learned first hand that many people in legal aid organizations must wear multiple proverbial hats to keep the office running. Though I sometimes felt spread thin, I knew that everything I was doing would help someone else, and then I understood why everyone here does what they do.
I feel so fortunate to have worked at Elder Law of Michigan this summer. While most of my friends spent their summers drafting briefs and complaints, but had no contact with their clients, I had the opportunity to see what the front end of practice is like, and work with people. I had the privilege of practicing interpersonal communication skills, issue spotting, and working with real world issues. I learned a ton of substantive law.
This summer was not what I expected, but it was so much more than I ever could have asked for.