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July 16, 2023

Internships Change Lives

David Godfrey, JD

The full issue, in which this article as well as any footnotes and endnotes appears, can be found here.

The Commission on Law and Aging has welcomed three law student interns for the summer who will be introduced in this issue of BIFOCAL.  COLA has a 30 plus year tradition of hosting interns.  Erica Costello has taken on responsibility for recruiting interns, something I enjoyed doing for about a decade.  The interns greatly expand our ability to get research done, creating new 50 state surveys on critical issues, and updating our resources.  The resources help us to understand the big picture of the law across the country and are used by researchers and by states when looking at what other states have done in updating laws.  We couldn’t do what we do without our student interns. 

I am at the ABA doing what love because of a summer internship.  The legal employment market was dismal the year I started law school.  Despite a dozen interviews, I didn’t receive a paid offer for that summer. Few in my class did. The University of Louisville School of Law required 30 or more hours of pro-bono work to graduate, a rare requirement in 1997.  I decided that summer would be a good time to fulfill that requirement. 

I reached out to the Fayette County Public Defender’s office. I was living in Lexington, Kentucky at the time.  The answer was, “we have more volunteer clerks than attorneys this summer, but Jerry Smith at Central Kentucky Legal Services (CKLS) is still looking.”  Jerry invited me in for an interview.  He was a civil legal aid legend, and he had been there when Legal Service Corporation was formed and first started funding civil legal aid programs.  He was kind, polite and inspiring.  He only had one condition, that I agree to come into the office two full days a week, until I decided I was done for the summer.   

I figured I would knock out the hours I needed in 2-3 weeks and spend the rest of the summer at the pool.  My goal in going to law school was to practice construction defects, planning, zoning, and land use law, this was just checking something off the list to get there.  Little did I know a volunteer internship would change the course of my life.

The next thing I knew it was the end of the summer, and I had completed 120 hours, four times the required 30 hours.  I learned two important things that summer.  That I was not cut out to practice family law.  And I fell in love with elder law.  The office had an elder law attorney, funded by the local Area Agency on Aging under the Older Americans Act. Karen Jones provided direct legal assistance to clients aged 60 and older.  Karen took me under her wing and gave me interesting things to do. I enjoyed working with the clients. Older adults had long been a part of my life with grandparents and a great-grandmother around the corner when I was growing up.  I had been a family caregiver and had studied the ethical issues of health care decision making in modern health care in undergrad.

I was hooked, the second summer of law school CKLS hired me as a paid intern.  By mid-summer I was doing client intake interviews.  I helped out on the family law practice, but my interest was clearly in aging.  In January of my third and final year of Law School, Karen emailed asking me to send a resume and cover letter to the Access to Justice Foundation. I did, and by the end of February I had a firm job offer to start in May.  I was there over nine years, before moving onto the Commission on Law and Aging. I will mark 15 years here in December. 

That summer internship 26 years ago changed the course of my life. The work was about helping people.  The first decade was direct client service, the last fifteen years have been empowering front line advocates to provide the best service to clients, and working to change systems, laws and policies to improve the lives of adults as we age.  I have aged into eligibility to be my own client.

So, what does my stroll down my memory lane have to do with you and your work?   

When you have a chance host student interns, give them interesting work to do, make them a part of your team and include them in everything you can. Throughout my legal career I have always hosted student interns, hoping to inspire some of them the way I was inspired. This is how we develop the next generation of advocates.

If you are near a College, University or Law School, develop connections and participate in on-campus recruiting.  If there is no University or College nearby, there are two great options. Consider hiring a remote intern. At the Commission on Law and Aging, remote interns didn’t start with COVID, we have worked with remote interns on research projects for over 14 years.  Also, get to know college students from your area, and offer them summer or holiday internships when they are home.  When I was in Lexington, we would plan clinical projects for spring break, with the help of two or three law students who were home for the break.  The students would get great experience, and we would help a lot of people in a short period of time. 

Hosting interns takes resources. recruitment and supervision take a lot of staff time.  We get a lot of valuable research done, but we have to pay for the staff time needed to do this. Your support and gifts from individual donors like you really help us with this.   Please help us continue to do this. And consider hosting interns in your office. The payoff is more than worth the effort.

David Godfrey, JD

Director ABA Commission on Law and Aging

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