Image: See-ming Lee
Much like in undergrad, “Alternative Spring Break” in law school can be a great time to give back and volunteer—this time putting your newly minted legal skills to the test. But what does that really look like? While it can vary, one New England Law | Boston student reflects on her past Alternative Spring Break experience working in family law.
During the spring semester of my first year of law school, I had the opportunity to participate in an Alternative Spring Break through the Public Interest Law Association (PILA) at New England Law | Boston.
The Alternative Spring Break program allows students to use their spring break to be placed at a public interest organization for the week to gain hands-on experience while providing needed legal services.
Related: Learn more about pro bono opportunities in law school
Historically, PILA has partnered with the Volunteer Lawyers Project (VLP) for the Alternative Spring Break program. When I participated in the Alternative Spring Break, I was placed in the Family Law and Guardianship Unit at VLP. Students can also be placed in the Consumer/Bankruptcy Unit or ERLI call center. I chose to participate in the Alternative Spring Break because I had recently secured an internship in the Family Law and Guardianship Unit at VLP for that upcoming summer. I saw the Alternative Spring Break as a great introduction to what I would be doing in my internship that upcoming summer.
On the first day of the Alternative Spring Break, the staff at VLP conduct a training that prepares students to go into the clinics in the courthouses for the duration of the time and interact with clients. For the rest of the week, students assisted VLP staff attorneys and volunteer attorneys at family law and guardianship clinics at both the Edward W. Brooke Courthouse in Boston and the Middlesex Probate and Family Court in Cambridge.
Even though it was only one week, I was surprised at how much I learned about family law, guardianship, client interaction, and the court system.
My main responsibility during the Alternative Spring Break clinic experience was client intake. This included taking down the client’s information, performing a client conflict check, and determining the client’s legal issue. After determining the client’s legal issue, staff attorneys would assist in instructing which court documents the client needed to complete and file. Under the direction of an attorney, I was able to assist clients in completing whatever court documents the client needed.
The court clinics are fast paced and exciting. Even though it was only one week, I was surprised at how much I learned about family law, guardianship, client interaction, and the court system. Being able to directly interact with clients as a 1L was invaluable experience.
During 1L year, there can be few opportunities to use the skills learned in the classroom in a real-world legal setting. Participating in the Alternative Spring Break allowed me to get out of the classroom and gain hands-on client experience.
After spending spring break volunteering at VLP, I felt re-energized going back into classes knowing that what I was learning in the classroom allowed me to make an impact in clients’ lives. The Alternative Spring Break at VLP gave me a leg up when starting my summer internship as well, because I already had experience working with clients and other staff members in a legal setting. On the first day of my summer internship, I was able to jump right in and assist staff members in the court clinics without as much direction and training.
After spring break I felt re-energized going back into classes knowing that what I was learning in the classroom allowed me to make an impact in clients’ lives.
At New England Law, all students who participate in the Alternative Spring Break receive a public interest notation on their law school transcript for accumulating twenty-five hours of pro-bono legal work. Participating in the Alternative Spring Break also brings student close to meeting the fifty-hour pro bono requirement for the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court’s Pro Bono Honor Roll.
I would highly recommend the Alternative Spring Break to any law student eager to get first-hand, client-focused experience in a legal setting.
Rebecca E. Golden is a member of New England Law | Boston’s Class of 2020. Learn more about pro bono and volunteer opportunities in law school here.