Groovy Internships

Jeffrey Adler

Jeffrey Adler
Legal Intern
by Sheila Eby

It was late July and Jeff Adler, who’d recently finished his freshman year at Rutgers University, had just polished off a summer class in Spanish. What to do until September? With the economy then in free fall — and most of his friends unable to find summer employment — he didn’t expect much luck in a job hunt.

Enter old family friends with a law firm in New York City. If Jeff would work for transportation and lunch costs, they would put him to work as an intern.

 

How did you feel about working, essentially, for free?
I felt like I was contributing to a good cause. The firm  – the Law Offices of James M. Abramson – separates children from parents who are abusing or neglecting them.

 

What did your boss do?
He represented social service agencies  – the ones who investigate to see how good or bad the mothers and fathers really are. I didn’t have the background to make any difference in the judge’s decision, but I knew I was involved in something important. I knew real children were at stake.

 

What did you do every day?
Organizational work. The firm had a lot of old cases and everything was on paper. They wanted to put all the information on line. So I worked on one case at a time, sorting out the important documents from the extraneous material. I removed a lot of staples! Then I scanned the important stuff into a computer and made each case a different computer folder.

 

What did you like about the work?
The people. Everyone I met – the lawyers, the social workers, the paralegals - I really liked them all a lot. They talked to me about their cases, what their jobs were like, what it meant to them to protect children. The social workers were strongly committed and the lawyers were, too. The job involved more paperwork than they would have liked, but they knew it needed to be done. Everyone was very cool.

 

Was it inspirational to you?
Some of it, yes, but not all of it. Not by a long shot. The actual trials are extremely bureaucratic and that was very discouraging.

 

Did you attend any trials?
My boss took me to court a few times so I could see what goes on there. But almost every case I went to was delayed because someone didn’t show up. The biological parents have to be there, the adoptive parents, the social workers, the lawyers for both parties; otherwise the judge can’t proceed. Usually someone’s missing, so the judge says, “Everyone get out your calendars.” Once they couldn’t find a date when everyone would be free, so they just picked a date out of the hat, knowing it wouldn’t mater; the hearing would be delayed again anyway.

 

What was your biggest surprise?
I was surprised by the lawyers defending the biological parents. If the social workers had found a mother or father unfit, why would anyone argue for the continuation of their parental rights?

 

It sounds like your boss gave you a view beyond your own responsibilities.
Yes, and that was always very interesting. On one of my first days I observed him preparing a social worker for her testimony in court. The social worker was very nervous; a child’s well being was on the line, and she believed the child would be much better off with the adoptive parents she’d gotten to know. You could see it meant the world to her, winning the case. But my boss began the conversation by telling her, “The most important thing you will do in court is tell the truth. Don’t say anything that you don’t know for a fact to be true.” It was all about integrity, just the way it should be.

 

What was the most important thing you learned?
That I don’t want to be a lawyer. Some people graduate and they have law as a back-up plan. But it won’t be for me. The work is just too bureaucratic. It’s not an argument, back and forth, where everyone is trying to find the truth.

 

How did the commute into New York City affect the experience?

I really liked going into New York City. I had to get up a lot earlier than I normally do and wear casual dress on most days, which is a lot more dressed up than the jeans and shorts I’d otherwise be wearing. When I went to court, I had to have a jacket and tie. But in an internship, one thing you’re learning is how to get to work every morning and be appropriate.

I actually liked running into my friends’ parents on the train. Being in New York City was cool. I ate in some fun, cheap restaurants and met friends after work some nights. We went to places like the Village. It was fun.

 

Did it bother you that you weren’t getting paid?
No, I knew that from the start; I was getting transportation and lunch costs. But then, my last day, they gave me a bonus for the work I’d done. That was really nice. They didn’t have to give me anything, but they did, and that showed they valued my coming in every day.

 

Sounds like you valued it, too.
It was a good experience; I’m really glad I did it.