At Catholic Legal Services, our roles as interns are fairly open-ended. When we first arrived, all of us were placed on one floor of the building and instructed to mainly take work from the managing attorney on that floor. However, there typically wasn’t enough intern work to fill all of our time, so starting early in the summer I went to other departments to ask if I could help other attorneys with anything. At this point, I’ve worked with many different attorneys and accredited representatives.
This approach has tended to keep things interesting. I haven’t spent all summer filling out asylum applications, or assembling affidavits, or doing intake interviews, or entering clients’ data in the online database—I’ve done all of the above, sometimes all on the same day. In a way, I’ve surveyed many parts of what the firm does, which has made the internship a valuable experience in which I’ve both learned a lot about the immigration system and been able to interact with clients directly.
The fact that each day is a mosaic of different assignments that I take entirely by choice has also been a lesson in time management and organization. On this front, I haven’t always been successful. The problem with working for so many different people in the office is that there’s almost always a new assignment that I could take on. There’s also a wide range of urgency among the assignments—sometimes an attorney will need me to make a phone call in the next 20 minutes, and sometimes there’s a set of translations they’ve been meaning to get to for months but it never had a strict deadline. While it would sometimes make sense to simply finish one task entirely and then move on to the next one, it’s not always easy. If I have to communicate with a client or an attorney, I have to wait indefinitely for a response; I might bump into an attorney in the hallway who asks me to do something time-sensitive based on new information from a judge or a client. On top of that, some tasks become boring after a long time, and I need to take a productive break by working on something else. In some cases, things that should have been easy get drawn out, and I’m left feeling guilty that I didn’t prioritize certain assignments more carefully.
At the beginning of our internship, our supervisor repeatedly described the office as chaotic. Most of the attorneys are very friendly, so at first I didn’t quite understand what she meant by that—the atmosphere felt more welcoming than anything. Now I think I understand. Some attorneys have over a hundred cases, funding cuts or changes lead to shifts in the way the office operates, new clients come in several days a week, and immigration law and its interpretation seem to change every day. The attorneys’ positive attitude is in spite of the chaos and uncertainty that are inherent to a nonprofit immigration law firm. While I haven’t always handled it in the best way I could, I’m glad I’ve had the experience of piecing together several weeks of work in a field that requires flexibility and organization. The next time I have this level of discretion over how to spend my time, I’ll be well prepared.