Becoming More “Me”

By: Rebecca Chelli

This summer, I had the opportunity to work at the Legal Services of New Jersey as a PICS intern. For 10 weeks, I was pleasantly surprised as I discovered what it meant to work in a New Jersey office building, which you can read about in my previous post. Not only was my view of  New Jersey transformed through the many learning opportunities I had working with clients, but as I welcomed my first introduction to office-life, I learned what interests me most and how to advocate for myself in my pursuit of such work. 

Going into my internship I knew, if nothing else, I excelled at communication- in other words, I like to talk. But how could I use my personality in the workplace? In my naive perspective of a legal office, I assumed the attorneys were strictly professional and that there was no room to express myself in the office. I was quickly proven wrong as I learned that the majority of our work begins with talking. Developing a safe and open line of communication with the clients and the community is the first step in providing the legal help necessary. My favorite part of working with Legal Services is that they are directly involved in the client’s life. I spoke with some clients every day and often reviewed their cases with the attorneys, making the clients a part of our lives as well. I learned that I loved to explain the steps we would take in a case to the clients. I loved answering their questions and hearing their concerns. I even loved that some would call multiple times a week to check on the progress of their case. By far, the best part of my summer was being able to meet some of the clients we helped in-person. I never expected to become so involved in the lives of our clients, but I couldn’t imagine it any other way.

Nevertheless, working in an office is hard. While I loved the diversity of work assigned to me, I preferred the opportunities I had to go to court, where all of our research and advice came together in action, and the hospitals where social workers helped refer patients in need of legal assistance to our offices. I made clear that I wanted to spend time offsite, and my supervisors granted me the opportunity to do just that. Additionally, I was introduced to many different types of civil law, and I learned that I preferred to work on cases concerning family law, guardianship, and special education rather than cases regarding health insurance. While I spent time learning a little about each, as I grew confident in showing my preferences, I began to enjoy the work more. I learned how to be clear about my expectations of work with my supervisors and once I established clear, honest, and frequent communication with them, my work experience excelled and I began doing tasks I never thought I could. 

I am so grateful for all that I learned this summer. While I still am uncertain about my future, I am sure that I need to be involved in an organization that has a strong community outreach component. Working with Legal Services the past 10 weeks, I saw so many people who were simply unaware of the rights they had or unable to advocate for themselves because of their circumstances. I know I want to help educate people so that there is no inequality in access to resources. I also know that I want to be in a place like Legal Services that supports my diverse interests and uses that variety of knowledge for a greater purpose. Finally, as I began building a relationship with my coworkers, I realized how dependent our work is on each other, and when we were missing a member their absence was notable. I always thought I excelled at independent work, but being a part of a team made me feel at home. I am happy to say I had a home at Legal Services and I know that wherever I work next, that will be the best expectation.

A few of my amazing coworkers that made LSNJ feel like home.



Date posted: August 23, 2019 | | No Comments » | Uncategorized

“Oh, the places you’ll go”

By: Rebecca Chelli

10 weeks ago, I began the adventure of a lifetime- yes, I travelled New Jersey. For 40 hours every week, I dedicated my efforts to coordinating with clients of the Legal Services of New Jersey based in Edison, New Jersey. Being a Jersey-girl myself, I began my internship confident that there was nothing in my area to see, at all. Yet, somehow, New Jersey surprised me.

I walked in my first day ready to accept my cubicle. If you asked me before I started working what my ideal workspace is, my immediate response would be an open space where my coworkers were easily accessible. That was before I had my own office! I walked in, closed the door, and spun around in my own office chair in front of the double-monitor computer set up on my desk. And then, the work started coming in. From my first day, I was tasked with interviewing clients to assess their needs and the level of services our organization could provide. I worked specifically with the Legal Assistance to Medical Patients Project (LAMP) where we partnered with hospitals to provide legal help to low income patients. I travelled to different Social Security buildings to advocate on behalf of our clients, to the Camden County Surrogate Court to observe a hearing, and to the offices of our hospital partners to meet with clients in-person. Who knew New Jersey offered so much to see?

In reflecting on the theme of my cohort-Bridging Theory and Practice- I witnessed the millions of decisions each day that provide such a link in the help low-income patients receive. In an ideal world, low-income residents would receive the same level of civil legal help as anyone else. However, financial limitations exacerbate the burdens in each area of an individual’s life. Especially with our medical patients facing civil legal problems, their legal burdens are affecting their health which creates an overwhelming cycle of need, often with no support to help navigate through the challenges. As a nonprofit, I learned that there are varying levels of service we offer because there is no “fix-all” method. Each client deserves a holistic approach to their situation. The different ways of assisting may not always include direct representation, and the clients may not always follow the advice given, but in the end each client has to choose how they move forward. To be able to provide that choice is the best advice we can give.

So, New Jersey may be a little humid and the people can come off as opinionated, but after 10 weeks I have travelled in ways I could not imagine. I saw people in my community with needs that I never would have realized before. I saw beyond my limited and privileged perspective of this world to learn of inequalities I never knew of. I saw my ability to help those around me, and I am so grateful for my time at the Legal Services of New Jersey.

Date posted: August 9, 2019 | | No Comments » | Bridging Theory & Practice