For students planning on going to law school, getting exposure to the legal field before signing on the dotted line for three years is invaluable. As helpful as a summer legal internship might be, most law firms don’t offer internships for undergraduate students. Feeling disappointed?
Fear not, Northeast Florida residents or students should check out the non-profit law firm Jacksonville Area Legal Aid (JALA).
The Scoop on JALA
Broadly speaking, legal aid organizations help underprivileged individuals receive legal representation. These groups fill an important gap in the courtroom. In three out of four civil court cases, one or both sides are not represented due to financial stress.
“Jacksonville Area Legal Aid works with others in the legal and medical communities to provide free civil legal assistance to those who could not otherwise afford it,” JALA’s Chief Development Officer Dennis Harrison said.
Given that funding for civil legal aid is limited, your involvement could have a huge impact.
“Though the legal needs of the community have far outweighed our resources, during the pandemic JALA staff have served a vital role to educate and inform tenants, landlords, the courts, the media and local government and social service agencies about the federal, state and local changes to restrictions on evictions,” JALA’s Division Chief of Housing Mary DeVries said.
JALA was formed as a non-profit law firm during the Great Depression to provide legal assistance to low-income individuals. It takes a hands-on approach in the community, providing opportunities for residents to access free legal advice and potential courtroom representation.
Take Freed to Run, for example. The 157-mile run has raised $1.44 million to address the civil legal aid needs of pediatric children.
And with the current COVID-19 pandemic affecting many individuals’ ability to pay rent, JALA worked to help individuals hold onto their homes.
“Through court representation and help drafting court documents, attorneys in the housing unit have delayed and prevented many evictions. Through the development of a statewide eviction response form builder, JALA staff have given many other tenants the tools they need to properly respond to an eviction lawsuit and invoke the legal protections in place,” DeVries said. “Many of our clients are still struggling financially, and hopefully our assistance will help keep them housed while they get back on their feet.”
Their free eviction answer builder helps individuals determine their eligibility for eviction defense.
What You’ll Be Doing
In a communications and public relations role, students learn how to coordinate community outreach and carry out public promotion.
“As a non-profit organization, we rely on legal interns to assist with intake, research and cases,” Harrison said. “Additionally, our development group provides a great opportunity for college students to creatively support the public relations and fundraising side of a non-profit.”
What’s the day-to-day like? Interns interview and write profiles on attorneys and create social media content for events where individuals can gain legal representation.
“When looking for internships, often students overlook the nonprofit arena, but sometimes that’s where they’ll find the best experiences,” CEO of Relatable Communications Group Nancy Kinnally said. “As a public relations professional, I’ve supervised more than a dozen interns at The Florida Bar Foundation and Jacksonville Area Legal Aid over the years, and they’ve all had ample opportunity to get hands-on experience with everything from website content management to social media, to writing for online and print publications.”
You’ll brush up on writing skills while learning amongst successful attorneys. For example, writing a profile on an eviction case story might reveal how an attorney successfully bought their client more time in their home.
“It’s given them loads of material for their portfolios, along with the chance to do a lot of good for the community,” Kinnally said.
Although limited due to COVID-19, JALA offers outreach opportunities outside of internships to get involved in.
“Most legal aid organizations are in need of volunteer assistance in many areas, but COVID-19 has changed everything and has required creativity,” JALA’s Director of Pro Bono Missy Davenport said. “Give your local legal aid organization a call to see how you might be able to get involved in a virtual project or help with research and administrative tasks!”
Now that we officially sold you on the merits of interning or volunteering for a non-profit legal aid organization such as JALA, check out some practical tips for landing the internship.
Working at a legal aid organization requires passion for pro bono work (legal work without charge) and community service. Your interviewer will want to see that you have an interest in equal justice.
Working at a legal aid organization is also a team effort. Get ready to show you know how to work well with others. For practice, think of a time in college in which you learned to coordinate with other members of a group.
Lastly, have a few writing samples on hand if asked to show your writing skills.
How to Apply
Once you’re ready, check out more information on communications and public relations or development and fundraising internships on the JALA website and ask for application information.
If you’re not a student in Florida, try doing a quick Google search to find out what internship or volunteer opportunities your local legal aid organization offers!