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.