(3) A Reflection on the “Real World”: My Internship with Legal Outreach

Two months ago, when I was packing up my belongings to move to New York City for the summer, I faced a fear that most college students face: the so-called “real world.” The real world that I would face this summer, as my dad explained, would hit me like a ton of bricks. I was scared that I wasn’t prepared or experienced enough to take on a full-time job as a teacher at a non-profit organization, and didn’t have as much faith in myself as I should have. So, this is what I wish I knew when I started: when you enter the world of work, or the real world, you might not feel ready, but you will learn along the way. If you dedicate yourself to your work and are passionate about what you are doing, the evidence of your efforts will be clear.

The first three weeks of my internship served as a preparation period, where I was joined by five other interns and twelve teaching fellows. We created lesson plans for the upcoming Summer Law Institute (SLI), organized student files, learned how to be effective teachers, and coordinated with our individual law schools that would be hosting our institute.

Funders - Legal Outreach
The 6 law schools that host students for a 5 week Summer Law Institute. I spent my summer at Cardozo School of Law. Source: Legal Outreach

Training was incredibly overwhelming. Learning how to be a teacher in three weeks when most people have an entire degree in education seems like an impossible task. Looking back, it only seems impossible until you’re doing it. After wrapping up our final week of SLI at Cardozo School of Law, I can confidently say that my eighteen students have left a lifelong impact on me. Our daily lessons went far beyond their criminal law curriculum; they taught me about the educational barriers they faced as young women of color entering the public high school system in New York City, and I imparted the knowledge I have acquired on how they can overcome these barriers. I helped them research scholarships that they could apply for as first generation college students, internship programs targeted toward underserved students, and even clubs at their high schools that would give them a sense of community. I’ve spent countless hours outside of the classroom reading applications, essays, and study materials. I’ve developed close relationships with every single one of the young women in my institute, and I know that we will stay in contact far beyond the end of SLI.

When I think of my overall impact on Legal Outreach as an organization, I can’t think of much. However, thinking about my impact on my eighteen students makes me feel an immense sense of pride. Throughout the summer, I was learning alongside them and figuring out what worked and what didn’t. I didn’t know which teaching methods worked for me or which activities would be engaging, and I certainly didn’t know how to be a mock trial coach. However, after watching my students compete in a mock trial competition in front of a real judge at Thurgood Marshall Courthouse in Manhattan and being praised for their confidence, I am reminded of the classroom full of silent students that I walked into on the first day of SLI who could not speak loud enough for me to hear their names. 

(2) Overcoming Inequity in Education with Legal Outreach


When reflecting on my Brandeis education and the copious amount of information that I have learned as part of a liberal arts curriculum, it is easy to identify material that I have utilized during my internship. As a legal studies minor, I have gained an incredible foundation and understanding of the law, which has helped me effectively teach legal subjects to the Summer Law Institute (SLI) students. However, my motivation to help these students succeed in their academic and professional careers stemmed from what I learned in Sociology of Health, Community, and Society, taught by Professor Siri Suh. In this course, we discussed education as a social determinant of health, which has proven to be incredibly relevant to my internship. Education is one of the most influential determinants, as people with higher levels of education are more likely to live healthier and longer lives. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:

“They [children from low-income families] are less likely to get safe, high-paying jobs and more likely to have health problems like heart disease, diabetes, and depression.” (Healthy People 2030, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services).

Due to a variety of factors, children living below the poverty line are less likely to graduate high school, and are therefore likely to remain below the poverty line. However, this disparity in education accessibility is inevitably influenced by race. Figure 1 (below) shows the percentage of people, by race, that have attained various levels of education.

Figure 1 (Source: U.S. Census Bureau)

While white Americans are likely to obtain a bachelor’s or professional degree at some point in their lives, the majority of Latino adults receive less than a college degree due to a lack of education accessibility. This puts minority populations at a perpetual disadvantage, not only regarding health outcomes but economic success overall. 

Motivating underserved and underrepresented students to overcome these statistics is the driving force behind Legal Outreach. Of the twenty eighth-grade students in my Summer Law Institute at Cardozo, every single one wants to go to college. However, the majority of them would be first-generation college students. Some of them would be the first in their family to graduate from high school. This inevitably leaves them with questions about how to apply to college, how to study for the SAT, and whether or not they can afford a college education. Legal Outreach’s College Bound program, a four-year high school program that students join upon completion of the SLI, helps underserved students overcome these unjust barriers. The College Bound Program provides students with academic and college advisors, free test prep, writing courses, internship opportunities, and college scholarships.

I am so honored to be part of an organization with such a targeted and important goal, and it is inspiring to see the motivation that the students have gained in just the past two weeks. These young women of color are gaining confidence in themselves and their ability to overcome the barriers that stand in their way. They want to become lawyers, even if no one in their family has ever reached that level of education before, and they know that they will be able to achieve that goal with hard work and the help of Legal Outreach. Learning about the benefits of an education and the obstacles these students face in obtaining it has allowed me to see this program in a new light. Their aspiration to succeed is the most inspiring aspect of this internship. 

(1) My internship with Legal Outreach

My internship with Legal Outreach has undeniably put me out of my comfort zone. I moved to New York City, started my first 9-5 job, and was forced to learn the ins and outs of the moody office coffee maker. But more importantly, I was confronted with topics that I had never discussed before—the most prominent being the racial injustices of the education system. Legal Outreach is a non-profit educational organization that seeks to bridge educational gaps by providing underserved and underrepresented students from the NYC area with skills they are usually deprived of, but are necessary for future success. Legal Outreach provides students with opportunities to develop these skills via tutoring, test prep, and extracurricular opportunities such as a mock trial team.

Their best-known program is the Summer Law Institute, which I am working with this summer. The SLI is a 5-week program for rising ninth-grade students, focusing on criminal law and taught by law students. This program, which is incredibly selective, pushes students to see themselves as future lawyers and provides them with the skills they need to one day succeed in the legal field. There are six individual institutes within the SLI, with each one taking place at a different law school in NYC. Every week, the students take tests and submit essays, converse with guest speakers, visit law firms and courthouses, and compete in a cumulative mock trial competition at the end of the program. 

I chose the position as a Coordinating Intern for the SLI because I have developed a passion for non-profit legal organizations, stemming from my first legal internship with the Volunteer Lawyers Project. Most of the full-time employees of this organization are lawyers who have chosen to trade in their legal careers to be mentors and advocates for students that have dreams to become professionals, but have faced incredible obstacles in their education that prevent these dreams from coming true. 

As a Coordinating Intern for the Cardozo School of Law SLI, my main responsibilities are to assist the Legal Teaching Fellows with grading student essays and tests, along with preparing and teaching one academic skills workshop a week. These lessons vary from plagiarism and citations, to essay-writing and public speaking, and so on. Additionally, it is my responsibility to reach out to attorneys and judges to serve as guest speakers and field trip hosts for the program, and to schedule and organize their visits. 

This summer, I am going to support Legal Outreach and their mission by sharing the valuable information, tools, and skills that I have gained throughout my own education with the students. I want to be an outlet for students to describe the areas of education that they have been wrongfully deprived of, with the hopes that I can supplement these gaps. 

At Legal Outreach, progress is seeing the SLI students gain confidence in themselves and their abilities after the program. Progress is them deciding that their dream to be a lawyer is within reach, and dedicating themselves to achieving that dream.