One key lesson I learned from my work in social justice, specifically with a law firm, is that boundaries are essential. When coming into the social justice field, I mistakenly felt that every task in my workday would line up perfectly from logging in at 8:00 AM to logging out at 5:00 PM. I quickly learned that this is not the case. There are points during the day where there is a lull, and then out of nowhere, three new clients call the office wanting to schedule consultations, then the insurance claims adjustor finally emails you back, and then you realize that you are missing one more document from your client a month and a half before their filing deadline. Working at a law firm is messy and it can start to feel like tasks are melting into each other and over into the next day. One piece of advice that I would give to prospective interns is to make sure to set boundaries with your coworkers and supervisors early.
This is not to say that the people you work with will be disrespectful of your space, but rather to ensure that you are mentally checking in with yourself and ensuring that you are not overworking yourself. Sure, you could take on that new project that is due before your existing projects, but you need to ensure that it is the right move for you. Again, this is not to say to avoid contributing to new projects, but rather to make sure that you are prioritizing your mental health instead of worrying about being a superhero. That phone call can wait until tomorrow. That project can wait to be started next week. If a task at your internship severely inhibits your mental well-being, you need to have an honest conversation with your supervisor. Work with your supervisor to be flexible, and come to a compromise with them to ensure the maximum efficiency of the organization, while prioritizing your well-being.
Learning how to set boundaries is necessary at any job, but even more so in the social justice field. Working with different people of different backgrounds can affect your mental well-being greatly and can make you feel attached to your clients easily. While it is important to feel some attachment to your clients, over-attachment can overwhelm the boundaries you set for yourself and can be draining. This is something I wish I had been able to conceptualize before I started my work at the firm.
I have made an impact at the firm due to my ability to speak Spanish. Because of this skill, we have been able to take on a more diverse range of clientele. As such, we are servicing people looking into a more diverse set of legal matters. In particular, my work has helped the firm widen the variety of immigration matters we take on, such as temporary protected status, consular processing, and permanent labor certification application via program electronic review management (PERM). I believe that my ability to bring in a wider range of clientele has benefitted the firm since the firm now has a wider range of knowledge of immigration processes for future clients.