(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. 

(1) An Introduction to the World of Public Health

The logo of the National Consumers League

Being a part of the Public Health Policy Team at the National Consumers League (NCL) has categorically been the most rewarding and meaningful experience I have had so far in my professional career. Although I have worked here for only a month, I have helped prepare testimony for a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee hearing on the ongoing infant formula crisis, staffed events, and written public policy statements. More importantly, I have found invaluable mentors who trust me and my work and are eager to help me learn and succeed.

Founded in 1899, the National Consumers League has long advocated for a fair and transparent market for consumers. NCL focuses on research, advocacy, and education on some of the most pressing issues affecting consumers including fraud prevention, healthcare, food and nutrition, child labor, and workers’ rights. In the past, my experience in the public health arena has been limited, but it has always been a field I have wanted to explore. The issues NCL addresses such as health equity, consumer choice, food and drug safety, and people’s ability to access safe, affordable, and quality healthcare impact the lives of millions of Americans. I have always believed that public policy is a potent mechanism for making positive and impactful changes in people’s lives. NCL’s work reflects my own values, making it an incredible organization for me to contribute to this summer.

The National Consumers League Team present at the HAC Summit.

As a nonpartisan organization, NCL works with nonprofits, grassroots coalitions, congressional staff, regulatory agencies, and other stakeholders to fight for consumers and ensure that people are able to receive necessary and sometimes lifesaving health services. NCL’s strategy for meeting these objectives begins with listening and amplifying the voices of underserved communities. From there, the team blocks out targeted and coalition-based approaches to help these people struggling in the U.S. health system. Final steps in this process include communicating the importance of these issues with congressional offices, putting pressure on regulatory agencies such as the FDA and FTC, and outlining health policy needs in collaboration with other groups. 

In my current capacity, the majority of my work centers on drafting policy statements, but I also attend meetings and brief NCL staff on specific issues and the meetings they can not attend. So far this summer, the policy statements I have written cover a range of different health issues such as copay accumulator programs, the monopolistic practices of PBMs, the unfair treatment of pregnant workers, the FDA’s ban on Juul, and the ongoing gun epidemic. I am also working on creating a health equity policy stance/agenda for the NCL website and had the immense privilege of assisting the Director of Health Policy in her testimony to the Senate Subcommittee on Competition Policy, Antitrust, and Consumer Rights. This included helping craft her formal statement, opposition research, and strategy recommendations for the Q&A portion of the hearing. 

Looking forward, I want to explore the full scope of public policy advocacy. From learning effective lobbying tactics to the process behind building a coalition of support, these skills will be invaluable to me throughout my future career. As someone new to public health, I also want to develop a more holistic understanding of the industry and how seemingly distinct issues, such as stringent immigration policy and health inequities, can intersect.

From my time at NCL, I have learned that progress can appear in many forms. While usually associated with policy and regulatory changes, increasing awareness, disseminating knowledge, and building coalitions around key issues are also mechanisms that create a base for the implementation of positive change. I am absolutely ecstatic to continue working at NCL and I can only imagine all the new things I will learn in the coming months.

My first weeks at the MCAD

“Why don’t you tell me why you are here?” This is the question I ask each person as they sit down in the intake room at the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD). As a neutral organization, the role of the commission is to investigate claims of discrimination and if need be, transfer them to a higher court for judgment.

For the past three weeks, I have been observing and training to be an Intake Specialist. As an Intake Specialist, my role is to interview each individual who enters our doors and determine if they have a legal basis for a discrimination claim. My most significant role as an Intake Specialist is to write up the formal legal complaint that becomes the basis upon which the Commission investigates each case. This requires strong interpersonal skills and an ability to concisely convey the alleged injustices of each individual.

This past week have finally been cleared to begin conducting the interviews on my own. What at first seemed like a daunting and somewhat scary task, has become the best part of my days. With each intake I conduct I gain more confidence and realize the extent to which I am truly making a difference in each interviewee’s life. Whether we take their claim or not, I provide a sympathetic and unbiased ear for them to express their anger, sadness and frustration.

Each intake I conduct is extremely different. The Commission has jurisdiction over education, housing and public accommodation cases. Therefore, each case I receive is unique and requires deep analysis and attention. It is safe to say that I am never bored at my job! A typical intake last about 2 hours, as it is my job to ensure that I receive all pertinent facts of the case. While the work is emotionally taxing, the relief I am able to provide is extremely rewarding. While I was expecting to learn about law and the ins and outs of government work, as an Intake Specialist I have become proficient at the important skill of successful customer service.

When I am not conducting intakes, I have been assigned certain cases to investigate. This is a tremendous responsibility and a unique opportunity to get first-hand experience working directly with other attorneys. My overall goals for the summer are to become a proficient Intake Specialist, as well as learn as much as I can about law and advocacy.

As a triple major in English Lit, Anthropology and Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies, I have always been unsure of my career track, as I have many paths to choose from. These past few weeks at MCAD has focused my interests and influenced me to consider a career in law and advocacy. Working alongside law students and attorneys, and viewing their passion and commitment to eradicate discrimination has been an extremely inspiring and eye-opening experience.

As the summer progresses, I am looking forward to taking on more responsibility at the Commission and continuing to contribute to their social justice fight against discrimination.  Through a combination of hands-on learning and educational training sessions and lectures, I am confident that I will leave this internship with an abundance of new knowledge and skills that I can add to my educational toolbox.

Learn more about MCAD their mission and history.

Jessica Spierer ‘18