Michael Fink (Class of 2012)
The summer following my IL year, I served the public as a volunteer researcher and writer for the school’s Center for Public Health and Tobacco Policy. Some of my work provided content for the center’s website, and I learned among other things how big tobacco companies and retailers use the legal system to delay or kill public health initiatives aimed at preventing children from getting hooked on nicotine or helping smokers kick the habit. Based on that experience, I thought about focusing on public health law, but many more legal career adventures awaited sampling.
My next sample career arose in the Lawyering Process Clinic. During the spring semester of my 2L year, I spent roughly 20 hours a week as a student lawyer at the school’s clinical law office, with my caseload focused in the area of family law. Though I had not yet taken a class in family law, I was assigned to represent a client who could not afford a lawyer and who was trying to collect child support from her ex-husband. Within two weeks I was before a judge in the Probate and Family Court arguing a motion that I had helped to write under the supervision of my clinical professor. Nothing in law school was more exciting to me than that moment when my case was called and I stood up on behalf of my client. That was just the beginning of an exhilarating semester-long experience of learning by doing legal writing, client counseling, investigation, and several more court appearances.
I built upon my clinical experience as a full-time volunteer student attorney in the housing division of the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau over the summer after my second year. I have no doubt my clinical litigation experience helped me get the job. Again, I learned a new area of law on the fly (although under close supervision by the supervising attorney) while defending several indigent clients who faced eviction, or loss of their public housing benefits.
In the fall of my 3L year I enrolled in the Administrative Law Clinic and secured a placement at the Department of Housing and Community Development because I was interested learning how public housing worked from the perspective of the government as landlord. My job included legal research and drafting memoranda of law on a variety of housing and development subjects. The department is charged with oversight of the emergency shelter program and I was involved in drafting decisions of appeals by people who had lost their shelter benefits for rules violations. This was emotionally challenging work because those evictions were almost always upheld, and I found scant comfort in the fact that there was always another family on the waiting list ready to step into the appellant’s shoes.
By this point, I was unable to imagine a semester of law school without an internship, so for spring of my 3L year I applied to the Government Lawyer Clinic. Though I was wait-listed, Professor Engler told me that I would be admitted if I found my own position, so I applied to the Massachusetts Commission against Discrimination. I was hired as a legal intern in their enforcement division, where I apply civil rights, employment, and administrative law in the investigation and disposition of discrimination complaints. As a neutral investigator I generate discovery requests, interact with the parties and their counsel, and write the dispositions, which determine whether there is probable cause of discrimination that will require a full administrative hearing.
Thanks to the clinical program, I have gained a variety of legal practice experiences that I can apply wherever I decide to focus my career. Entering this challenging job market, I am thankful that my resume looks as if I have been practicing law for nearly two years, because internship experience is one of the most important factors considered by public or private sector legal employers.