This summer, I had the honor of working for the national office of the American Civil Liberties Union in their Criminal Law Reform Project.
Upon graduation from college, I worked at the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office in the Juvenile Division, where I witnessed the damaging effects of criminalization on juveniles’ futures. Through racialized drug law enforcement to convictions for petty theft and other crimes of poverty, I witnessed countless minors subjected to incarceration instead of compassion. Furthermore, as a paralegal for the Traffic Unit of the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, I witnessed the use of routine traffic stops as pretexts for vehicle searches for possession of drugs. Especially alarming were both the targeting of certain neighborhoods and the tremendous stigma associated with those accused of criminal acts. Because of this experience, I sought a job that would allow me to work directly on criminal justice and drug policy reform, and I found that job at the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) in Los Angeles.
During my two and a half years at DPA, I campaigned, lobbied, organized and advocated for various legislation related to drug policy and criminal justice reform. Most notably, I learned about the added impact our criminal justice system has on the immigrant community through the threat of deportation and the perpetuation of racist narratives in order to further surveil and criminalize the Latinx community. These experiences solidified my commitment to criminal justice reform and fueled my desire to apply to law school.
At Rutgers Law, I was presented with numerous amounts of pro-bono opportunities as a 1L. By participating in the Honorable Judith H. Wizmur Bankruptcy Pro Bono Project, Power of Attorney events, and Expungement Screening events, I was able to gain experience working with clients as well as give back to the community. These experiences not only provided me the opportunity to get comfortable interacting with clients but also helped me better understand the individual impact of an attorney’s advocacy on behalf of a client, especially those who cannot afford representation. This understanding made my summer internship that much more substantial and impactful.
At the ACLU, most of my assignments were research memos recommending claims and jurisdictions for potential impact litigation to advance criminal justice reform. Thanks to the incredible instruction of Professor Ricks, my Rutgers LAWR classes prepared me to both conduct legal research and write legal memos that effectively explained the law and my recommendation while being concise. Also, thanks to her law firm simulations, I was also able to tackle briefing the attorney and quick email responses to legal questions in a professional manner. As one of the few 1Ls interning in the office, at first, I felt intimidated to have to produce work product on the same level as the 2Ls. However, I soon learned that LAWR, combined with my pro-bono experiences, prepared me to excel in my internship.
Working at the ACLU was a great experience for my future career goals. I am interested in impact litigation focused on civil rights and criminal justice reform, so it was exciting to see the various stages of civil litigation throughout the summer. From researching potential future claims to crafting legal arguments to celebrating the Census victory, my summer internship helped me learn a lot about the criminal justice system and the litigation process. Plus, I was able to meet Edward Snowden, which is in my top five most exciting moments in life (meeting RBG will always be number one).