NYLAG Summer Interns Learn the Ropes of Public Interest Law

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With only 36 slots available, NYLAG received over 600 applications for its 2011 Summer Internship Program. Applicants included law students from schools all over the country, most of whom attended NYU’s Public Interest Career Fair in February. Chris Portelli, NYLAG’s Summer Internship Coordinator, said the response to NYLAG was overwhelming, including both the number of formal applications received as well as the many law students who dropped by NYLAG’s information table during the career fair. “The crop of interns this summer is exceptional,” Portelli stated. “The few interns profiled in this article are representative of the overall quality of interns we get here at NYLAG.”

Erik Graham-Smith (LegalHealth intern) graduated from Boston College in 2005 and is currently in his first year at Harvard Law School. After his graduation from BC, Erik joined the Jesuit Volunteer Corps (JVC) where he was placed at the Interfaith Committee on Worker Justice, part of the Center on Policy Initiatives in San Diego. While at JVC, he helped mobilize leaders of the faith community to support low-wage workers and encourage them to publicly advocate the ideals of justice that their faiths espouse. Following his year in San Diego, Erik went on to complete a Masters Degree in Divinity at Yale University, planning to continue his faith-based non-profit work after graduation. However, after reflecting on some of the personal experiences he had at Yale concerning medical funding, insurance and access to healthcare, he was inspired to go to law school instead. Erik explained, “As an intern for LegalHealth, I’m learning so much about the way our medical system works, and I’m also getting an opportunity to help clients through the web of issues that come into play when sickness strikes. From immigration to housing to public benefits, in a few weeks, I’ve already been able to help clients on a wide range of issues. It’s been wonderful!”

Daniel Nam (General Legal Services intern) graduated from St. John’s University School of Pharmacy in 2003 and started working at Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital as a staff pharmacist. While the hospital gave him incredible clinical experience, Nam explains, “I didn’t feel like I was doing enough.” After observing that the healthcare services in Elmhurst/Jackson Heights were erratic, he was inspired to start his own independent pharmacy in the neighborhood. Community service was a crucial aspect of his business: he regularly offered freed blood pressure readings, counseled community members on finding errors in their medical treatment, and made himself available to the public for questions about healthcare and treatments. In providing these services, Nam noticed that most of his patients had questions regarding social healthcare issues such as access to Medicare and Medicaid. After three years in business, he realized that he could best serve these individuals as a public advocate. Speaking about his subsequent decision to attend St. John’s Law School, Nam gushes, “I love every second of it.”

Julie Rapoport (Family Law intern) graduated in 2010 from the University of Maryland College Park and immediately began her studies at Harvard Law School the next semester. She has “always been interested in the many parallels between American civil law and Jewish law, especially in the United States where we are constantly struggling to define the line between church and state,” she explained. At NYLAG, Rapoport has been working with Orthodox Jewish victims of domestic violence as part of Project Eden, a program that incorporates New York civil law and Jewish law to help victims from the Orthodox community in Brooklyn.

Andrew Tepper (General Legal Services intern) is a third-year undergraduate at New York University majoring in history with a minor in public health and policy. At NYLAG, Tepper has been working with cases related to enforcing the decision in Reynolds v. Giuliani, an impact case brought by NYLAG that challenged NYC’s failure to properly process food stamp, public assistance, and Medicaid applications. During his time as an intern, Tepper has had the opportunity to speak with individuals directly affected by unjust denials of public benefits and answer their questions. He has also attended fair hearings, staffed the intake desk at Project Fair, and conducted telephone intake. “These experiences have been very interesting and have afforded me the unique opportunity to have real interaction with clients,” Tepper stated.