2016 PFIG Recipient Madison DeLuca
Journal Entry #1
This summer, I am working as an undergraduate intern for the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office for Access to Justice in Washington, D.C. The Office for Access to Justice (ATJ) promotes policies that encourage equal access to justice, regardless of wealth or status. To do this, ATJ partners with federal agencies to advocate for the importance of indigent defense and civil legal aid. The office issues Statements of Interest, amicus briefs, and Dear Colleague Letters regarding access to justice across the United States.
Before walking in the first day, I set a personal goal. I hoped to identify a topic for my fourth-year Global Development Studies thesis by exploring the structure and impact of indigent defense. I have already been exposed to fascinating discussions about the challenges and successes of civil legal aid. I have attended meetings in which attorneys discussed the logistics of indigent defense abroad and around the United States. As I continue exploring access to justice, I hope to establish a pointed area of interest about which I can research and write.
I have begun working towards this goal by learning as much as I can about access to justice when I am given assignments. My most sizeable task so far has involved office correspondence. ATJ constantly receives calls, emails, and handwritten letters from citizens looking for solutions to legal problems. During my first week, I completed a comprehensive overview of all unsolicited written correspondence since 2010. I updated old spreadsheet entries and created new entries for the most recent letters. Maintaining this record captures the names and addresses of concerned letter-writers and allows the office to track those who write multiple times.
I was tasked with drafting a response to each letter received by the office. After drafting the response, I submitted it to the Office Manager who then reviewed and signed the letters before I mailed them out. Understandably, many people see the title “Access to Justice,” and write to ask for help concerning perceived personal injustices they face. Unfortunately, the office is small and does not have the resources to take on individual cases, focusing instead on promoting broader policy changes. I communicate this in the response letters while directing writers to more appropriate sources for legal aid. This was a disappointing response to send at first. However, as I have learned more about the inner workings of the office I understand the impracticality of taking on individual cases. Indeed, in some instances, it would be a conflict of interest for the office to get involved.
I am also helping the office prepare for its upcoming White House Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable (WH-LAIR) meeting. Co-chaired by the White House Domestic Policy Council and the Department of Justice, WH-LAIR seeks to raise federal agencies’ awareness about the importance of civil legal aid. My first task to support the WH-LAIR meeting consisted of compiling a spreadsheet with the name and contact information of every WH-LAIR representative. This will increase efficiency in communication before and after the meeting. Another major task I have been assigned is researching and reporting federal grants related to access to justice. The grants I identify will be posted on the office’s website. These funding opportunities are a critical way for non-profits, state, local, and tribal agencies, courts, and academic institutions to receive funding, training, and/or technical assistance.
This week I have learned a lot -- about the Department of Justice, ATJ, and legal aid itself. I especially hope to learn more from the ATJ staff and law interns as we discuss their academic and professional paths. I plan to apply to law school, and have already gained invaluable insight about the law school experience. As the summer continues, I’m excited to explore a potential career in public interest law and identify a topic for my fourth-year thesis. I am looking forward to the experiences yet to come.
Journal Entry #2
This week, I am halfway through my internship at the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office for Access to Justice (ATJ). I am glad to have supported the office so far through research and administrative work. I look forward to deepening my knowledge about Access to Justice issues and public service careers in the final half of my internship.
When I arrived at ATJ, I helped prepare for the office’s White House Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable (WH-LAIR) meeting. Co-chaired by the White House Domestic Policy Council and the Department of Justice, WH-LAIR seeks to raise federal agencies’ awareness about the importance of civil legal aid. I stuffed folders, printed name cards, and helped organize the guest list, making sure each detail was correct. It was exciting to sit in on the meeting and see federal agency designees and other guests sharing valuable information about legal aid. Watching the meeting helped me understand why our organization and preparedness was critical.
Another exciting project I have enjoyed is the monthly policy scan that I create. Each month, I sort through a database of news outlets and think tanks to cull articles relevant to the ATJ staff. I compile a document with the article title, link, date, author, and source and include a short summary. While this sounds simple, it has resulted in my combing through hours of content. However, I have liked keeping up with current events and reading different perspectives on today’s issues. The policy scan is also helpful for me to learn about the nuances of legal aid so that I can better understand the attorneys’ work.
Additionally, interning with ATJ has helped me better understand the law school application process. Through conversations with attorneys and law interns, I’ve been able to consider different timelines for working, studying for the LSAT, and attending law school. While I haven’t yet decided on a course of action, my summer internship has prompted me to consider how long a break I want to take before returning to school, and what I want to do during that time.
As I finish out the second half of the summer, I’m interested in connecting more with members of the ATJ staff. I plan to take advantage of the opportunity to learn from them, whether that means asking questions about interesting projects or sitting down with them to discuss their career paths. Interning at ATJ has been an educational experience thus far and I am excited for the final half of the summer.
Journal Entry #3
Today is my last day interning for the Office for Access to Justice at the Department of Justice, and I'm sad to go! This internship has been extremely fulfilling in ways I couldn't have predicted. I have gained new skills, clarity about my professional path, and a wonderful group of mentors to help and guide me.
This internship helped solidify my long-term goals. I really enjoyed my time in the policy world and enjoyed the sense of purpose that pervaded work at ATJ. While I am still exploring my postgraduate options, interning at the DOJ has made me feel secure in my decision to go to law school. I loved watching the attorneys work and learning more about what one can do with a law degree. Leaving this internship, I also feel confident that taking time off before law school is the right decision. Spending time abroad or in a workplace before law school will help me develop my interests and make me a more successful law student.
At my next job, I know the skills that I cultivated at ATJ will help me contribute meaningfully. Small and large projects at ATJ sharpened my editing, research, and organizational skills. I really enjoyed helping compile a new resource linking Sustainable Development Goal 16 with my office’s work. Sustainable Development Goal 16 reads, “Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.” The document aims to demonstrate how the realization of this goal is critical to meeting many of the other goals, like eradicating poverty, ending hunger, and promoting gender equality. I am now prepared for future projects that involve reviewing preexisting resources, identifying relevant points, and conveying them in an aesthetically pleasing document.
Ultimately, my biggest accomplishment of the summer was feeling like I had earned the office’s trust. I appreciated being tasked with meaningful work and being part of the team. Working in such a positive environment taught me a lot about professionalism and collaboration. The constructive feedback I received has refined my writing and analytical abilities. But more importantly, this experience has made me more confident in my ability to succeed in another professional setting in the future.