Report from Rachel Chen,
By Rachel Chen
I highly value my fall 2011 fellowship with inMotion, Inc., funded by the New York Women's Bar Association Foundation. Through this 10-week experience, I am amazed at the insights I gained into the practice of law, much of which I could not have learned in law school. When I applied for the fellowship, I was looking for an opportunity that would enable me both to learn substantive law and to have direct client interaction. To my delight, the experience with inMotion enabled me to achieve both.
As part of my work at inMotion, I did intake for people who called the inMotion Hotline and asked for help with their legal issues. Most of the time we, the volunteer intakers, evaluated the potential clients over the phone to see whether inMotion could provide assistance. If, for various reasons, they didn't qualify for our services, we could still help them by giving out appropriate referrals. This was especially rewarding, because it allowed me to utilize all the available resources I had to help out people in real need, even though sometimes it was a little bit overwhelming listening to their sad stories. One time, I received a call from a first year law school student. It was the day before her final exams, and the father of her child was trying to take the baby from her. When I gave her the referrals, she said "Thanks a lot. I now feel much more confident walking into the exam room."
Another important part of my work dealt with individual cases. I worked in depth on a number of cases, including various matrimonial and family law matters. Under the supervision of inMotion staff attorneys, I interviewed clients, drafted documents, and managed case flow. I was able to learn how to communicate effectively with clients, how to build up client trust, and what it means to be a practicing lawyer. I felt very involved, because I was given the opportunity to take possession of the cases assigned to me. Sometimes the work involved substantive drafting, and sometimes it requires constant communication between the lawyer and the client. I feel so grateful that my lawyering skills were honed during my fellowship.
The most touching aspect of this work, however, was the personal connection I developed with the clients. Among the numerous client matters I was assigned, there was one custody case in particular that had a great impact on me. The legal issue at its heart was somewhat complicated, concerning the sufficiency of notice given with regard to out-of-state matrimonial proceedings. As I was handed the case file and got on the phone with the client, I soon realized that she was in a tougher situation than I had imagined. She had to take care of one disabled son, and her other child was hospitalized. She had no income, because her care-giver responsibilities made it impossible to find a job, and her estranged husband, paying no support for either child, was fighting against her for custody in a remote state. Yet she was always so energetic and positive. Inspired by her great attitude, I did my best to help her — drafting legal documents, providing social worker information, researching the public benefits for which she might be eligible, etc. She often called my office number; we were talking like friends. When I finally saw her settled down with her children, it was very rewarding. Lawyers are professionals, but I believe it is the humanity of this profession that inspires us always to work hard and wholeheartedly.
As a result of the cases in which I was involved and the wide range of intakes I did, I was exposed to an array of practice areas that allowed me to learn the substantive law in relation to these matters. From time to time, I conducted legal research on procedural issues, evidence rules, and recent developments in family law to assist my supervising attorney. In many cases, I used my knowledge of the law to assist with case planning and the drafting of correspondence with the court and the other side. I feel I know so much more about family and matrimonial law now. I truly appreciate my experience at inMotion and am very grateful to the New York Women's Bar Association Foundation for sponsoring me and other students for this experience.
© 2012 NYWBA All Rights Reserved