Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Reflections from the Field, Part 8: Project HEAL (Take 2!)

This summer I worked at Project HEAL, a medical legal-partnership between the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center and the Maryland Volunteer Lawyer’s Service.  As a law clerk to the project, I managed client intake, reviewed client files for special education and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) cases and briefed the managing attorney, participated in Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meetings, helped train incoming residents at the hospital on how the project’s resources could help their patients, and educated Teach for America Fellows on the legal issues facing poor families.  While many of the cases I handled were only brief advice from the attorney I supported, this free advice was invaluable to the families receiving it.  

My help in preparing for IEP meetings allowed the attorney to help clients at 18 IEP meetings during the course of my clerkship.  Without my assistance, the attorney would not have been able to assist so many clients.  By participating in these meetings, I realized just how complicated and challenging the special education process can be for any family—yet alone for families living in poverty dealing with a confluence of challenges.  We were able to speak up for the needs of special education students whose rights under the IDEA Act might have otherwise been violated.  Without our assistance and advocacy, I believe most of these students would not have received the services that they were entitled to under the law.  I also helped a client qualify for SSI.  I studied the qualifications for SSI written by the Social Security Administration and reviewed the client’s medical records.  After extensive analysis, I determined that this young man who has had serious emotional challenges for the past several years would likely be eligible for SSI.  These SSI benefits will help his mother pay for the extensive psychosocial and pharmacological treatment that he receives.

Working at Project HEAL this summer opened my eyes to the many complicated problems that poor families face in their daily lives.  As a future public interest attorney, this clerkship with Project HEAL was a tremendous learning opportunity.  I gained hands-on legal experience working on a variety of civil matters that taught me more about the actual practice of law than any classroom experience could provide.  Furthermore, I was able to help members of my community dealing with complex challenges.  Because of this experience, I am better prepared for the challenges and opportunities ahead in my career as a public interest attorney and will be stronger advocate for the most vulnerable members of our society.  

Catherine Villareale, 3L 

Monday, February 18, 2013

Reflections from the Field, Part 7: Office of the Public Defender

I cannot thank UBSPI enough for the grant given for my work at the Baltimore County branch of the Office of the Public Defender (OPD). I love criminal law, so I was excited after contacting the OPD last spring and hearing there was an opportunity there for the summer. 

My supervising attorney told me that I would be creating a motion’s bank. The idea was that I would collect some motions from various attorneys at the office regarding search and seizure violations, pre-trial identification issues, Miranda suppression motions, etc., and compile sample motions for each issue. Basically, the goal was to have any attorney at the office be able to copy and paste the “R” and “A” section of an “IRAC” memo into any appropriate motion, leaving only the application of the law to the facts of the case to complete. In the course of the creation of the bank, I updated the office’s case law and created a reference file containing pinpoint citations and quotes of relevant MD and federal cases for several of the issues groups in the bank.

Yet the clerkship went so far beyond basic legal research. I quickly discovered how deep my knowledge and interest into criminal defense work is and found myself hunting for opportunities to help the OPD attorneys in their particular cases. Throughout the course of the summer I participated in several  brainstorming sessions with district and circuit court attorneys on framing issues for pretrial hearings. Additionally, I had an opportunity to write a motion to suppress on the validity of search incident to arrest regarding cell phones in MD—an issue the MD appellate courts have yet to rule on. Also, I participated with a Circuit court attorney in weighing the benefits and viability of a Franks hearing, in addition to several other substantive interactions in the office.

I guess I want to stress how difficult, if not impossible, the clerkship would have been sans grant. The grant made it possible to make fantastic connections in the Baltimore County OPD, really solidify my interest in criminal defense, and eat foods not predominantly flavored in chicken, shrimp, and beef (that’s ramen noodles for the uninitiated). Thank you so much UBSPI for making it all possible, and thank you OPD for the opportunity.

Michael Stone, 3L 
UBSGA Senator
UBSPI Community Service Chair

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Reflections from the Field, Part 6: Project HEAL

This past summer, I secured an internship with Project HEAL (Health, Education, Advocacy and Law) at Kennedy Krieger Institute (KKI). Project HEAL provides advocacy and legal services for low-income families and children with disabilities who receive services at KKI. This medical-legal partnership, one of the few in the country dedicated to serving children with disabilities, makes for an interesting and powerful team that has changed the lives of many patients. 

Like most students with an aspiration of working in public interest, one of my desires to work for Project HEAL came from the longing to have an impact on the community and help those who are less fortunate than I am. The other, and more prominent desire, came from the fact that Project HEAL gave me an opportunity to give back to a group of people who I have benefited from all my life. My sister, Alex, was diagnosed with Global Apraxia and a mild Intellectual Disability when she was a toddler. Alex, and her friends, have blessed me with the gift of perspective and an appreciation of the talents I’ve been granted. After 23 years of giving very little and receiving a great deal, Project HEAL gave me the opportunity to give back to a special community of people who need our help more than ever.

I was also attracted to Project HEAL because Maureen van Stone, the Director, has such a positive impact not only on the special education community, but also the students of local Law Schools. Through countless interns, she has instilled attributes that will last for a lifetime and will have no small impact on the lives of future attorneys. Based on the example she set, I know that I will not only be a better attorney, but that I will be a better contributing member of my community. 

When Maureen and I first met to speak about the possibilities that Project HEAL could provide for a legal intern, I was skeptical that all of her promises could come to fruition in just ten weeks. I was wrong. Maureen, Project HEAL, Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service (MVLS), and KKI provided more opportunities and eye opening experiences than I could ever have imagined possible. 

Most of my days were filled with Individualized Education Program (IEP) meetings and client intakes. I attended over 15 IEP meetings and conducted over 40 client intakes. IEP team meetings were especially interesting because they provided insight into what advocacy really meant. I observed how Maureen negotiated with the school system and their counsel, and opened their eyes to the struggles of each of her low-income clients. Frequently, both parties would come to an amicable agreement and develop a more appropriate educational program for their child and identify a more appropriate educational placement for the child. 

IEP meetings and client intakes allowed me to sharpen my client interaction skills; however,  there was also plenty of opportunities for legal writing. I wrote over 15 client closing letters, status letters for our clients, a Maryland State Department of Education Complaint, and letters to our opposing counsel. The ability to write, revise, and receive feedback from Project HEAL attorneys was valuable, and I noticed an improvement in my writing style over the short ten weeks. 

In addition to client services, Maureen is involved with many coalitions and task forces. We regularly attended EAC (Educational Advocacy Coalition) meetings, City Wide Special Education Advocacy Project monthly meetings, Maryland Special Education Lawyers meetings, Futures and Estate Planning presentations by Victoria Sulerzyski of Ober Kaler, City School’s presentations on the state of City School’s buildings, and countless others. 

Aside from these regular meetings, I was exposed to a host of other educational experiences including,
  • visiting KKI’s Neurobehavioral Unit, which provided a better understanding of the clients we were serving; 
  • providing brief advice to parents and guardians over the phone;
  • case consultations to KKI health care professionals;
  • accompanying a family to visit a school option and guiding them through the process of asking pointed questions and discussing what option best fit their child; 
  • using the skills and strategies I had learned over the summer to advocate for a child and attend his IEP meeting on my own with supervisory support, when needed;
  • data entry on MVLS’s legal database; 
  • professional trainings for KKI health care professionals and service providers;
  • community trainings for consumers and families; and 
  • attending Kennedy Krieger’s Society Party, which provided a great opportunity to network with KKI donors and Project HEAL supporters.    
Hunter McIntyre

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Reflections from the Field, Part 5: Asian Pacific American Legal Resource Center (APALRC)

Over the past summer I worked at the Asian Pacific American Legal Resource Center (APALRC), which is a nonprofit organization in Washington, D.C. that provides free legal services for predominantly low-income Asian Pacific Americans in the Greater Metropolitan area. The organization assists clients on legal matters including immigration law, family law, business law, domestic violence, and housing. However, APALRC also participates in many other initiatives such as the Crime Victims Assistance Program, the Housing and Community Justice Project, and community outreach. Most of APALRC’s clients have limited English proficiency, so the organization has the ability to provide assistance in approximately twenty-five different Asian languages.

I managed the Vietnamese helpline and assisted mostly Vietnamese speakers with their legal matters. I conducted client intake over the phone, interviewed clients, drafted affidavits of support for immigration petitions, prepared witnesses for hearings, performed research, and wrote legal memoranda. My most interesting case involved filing an I-751 Petition to Remove Conditions on Residence because my client was potentially subject to deportation and I was the primary person working on her case. I enjoyed being given a great deal of responsibility and felt honored that the supervising attorneys gave me so much deference. Furthermore, I also worked on a case where USCIS was revoking a United States citizen’s citizenship. Accordingly, I worked on emotionally taxing cases where people’s lives were essentially in my hands.

My experiences at APALRC this summer gave me an opportunity to expand on my knowledge on substantive law, but also helped me grow on a professional and personal level. I gained the valuable experience of having a great deal of client interaction. I will never forget my first client interview where I was fighting back tears as I listened to my client’s disheartening human trafficking story. I tried my best to be sympathetic, but professional and authoritative at the same time. It was a challenge setting aside my emotions representing these indigent individuals, but with time and experience, I learned how to focus on the important legal matters at hand and not let my feelings get the best of me.

Linh Ly, 3L  

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Reflections from the Field, Part 4: Office of the Public Defender (CINA Division)

This past summer I had the opportunity to intern at the Baltimore City Office of the Public Defender in the Child In Need of Assistance Division (CINA).  I had been wanting to intern with the OPD but I was a little worried about this particular office, because the clients are parents who are accused of child abuse or neglect.  During my interview for the position of law clerk, the supervisor asked if I could handle this type of work, because you don't really get to deal with cute and cuddly kids.  I said yes, but wondered in the back of my mind if that was the truth.  To be honest, a lot of cases deal with parents who have fallen on hard times.  Rather than the monsters you might expect in such an office, many of the clients have drug problems, mental health issues, or are simply poor.  A lot of work involves finding the right help for the parents, such as anger management workshops, parenting classes, or affordable housing.

My supervising attorney for the summer is exactly the person you want on your side if you have the misfortune of requiring a public defender.  She is very passionate and bends over backwards to help her clients.  If a client had no way of getting to the courthouse, she would provide a bus pass or a ride herself.  She has an extensive knowledge of community-based programs that provide aid and I swear she lived out of her office.

I had an amazing experience in my internship.  My supervising attorney gave me a variety of tasks, which I'm grateful for.  There was never a dull moment at that office and, although most times the work can be sad and daunting, the attorneys and staff find a way to stay positive and upbeat.  Thank you for the opportunity.

Amanda Kosmerl, 3L

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Reflections from the Field, Part 3: Heartly House, Inc.

Courtesy of the University of Baltimore School of Law and the Maryland Legal Services Corporation, I had the wonderful opportunity to spend my summer working at Heartly House, Inc. in Frederick, Maryland.  Heartly House is a non-profit organization serving victims of domestic violence, sexual abuse, sexual assault, and/or child abuse by providing shelter, counseling, legal services, and 24-hour support.

While working in the legal department, I conducted outreach in the courthouse to pro se petitioners seeking temporary protective or peace orders informing them of Heartly House services, did trial preparation for clients, drafted pleadings and motions, met with clients to help them file for divorce and/or custody, observed mediation, attended seminars throughout the state, and educated clients on Maryland’s new landlord/tenant laws providing benefits to individuals who have received final protective or peace orders.

Having the opportunity to serve the community of Frederick County, Maryland, the community I grew up in, this summer was an unforgettable and fulfilling experience.  The connections I made with clients and colleagues and the knowledge I acquired affirmed my decision to work in the field of public interest.  Thank you, University of Baltimore School of Law and the Maryland Legal Services Corporation for providing this grant allowing me to give back to my community.

Carin Janet, 3L

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Reflections from the Field, Part 2: Homeless Persons Representation Project (HPRP)

This past summer I had the opportunity to work with the Homeless Persons Representation Project in Baltimore, MD. HPRP provides a number of legal services to the homeless and those at risk of homelessness, including direct representation in housing and public benefits cases as well as expungement of criminal records. My work this summer focused on public benefits cases (Temporary Cash Assistance, Food Stamps, Medicaid, etc). 

Working alongside staff attorney Francine Hahn, I was able to gain valuable experience in public benefits and administrative law. I also worked directly with the Baltimore City Department of Social Services, negotiating with agency appeals representatives to secure positive outcomes for our clients. I had a lot of direct contact with clients, conducting initial intake interviews, investigation, and on one occasion accompanied a client to her local DSS office. Working one on one with our clients was particularly eye-opening and rewarding at the same time. Many of our clients were families with young children - families who were living in homeless shelters, but were being denied the assistance they needed to purchase basic necessities like food. 

I also had the opportunity to work on matters of public policy, conducting legal research and drafting memoranda on issues related to public benefits. I found this work particularly rewarding, so I recently accepted a position back at HPRP as the Linda Kennedy Fellow in Advocacy for the 2012-2013 academic year. My experience this summer was truly transformative and would not have been possible without my MLSC/UBSPI grant. 

Spencer Hall, 3L