Law students to focus their summer on public service

Legal aid organizations statewide are doubling as real-world training grounds for law students who have joined the Legal Aid ranks for 11 weeks through The Florida Bar Foundation’s 2009 Legal Services Summer Fellowship.

The 40 law students — from all 10 Florida law school and several out-of-state law schools — attended a training workshop May 21-22 in Ft. Lauderdale before beginning their fellowships at 28 Foundation-supported legal aid programs.

Nearly 490 applicants applied for the fellowship this year — the most the Foundation has ever received.

“The need for Legal Aid is continuing to grow and it’s exciting to also see a growth in law students wanting to get their feet wet in public interest law,” said Paul Doyle, director of the Foundation’s Legal Assistance for the Poor and Law Student Assistance grant programs.”

Since its inception in 1995, the Legal Services Summer Fellowship has provided law students with hands-on education handling a variety of cases and working one-on-one with clients, thereby experiencing the impact practicing public interest law can make.

“The summer fellows are a dual benefit to legal aid programs. They help provide legal assistance to clients during their fellowships and they provide programs an opportunity to identify and build a relationship with top notch law students seeking further employment in public interest law,” Doyle said.

For legal aid attorney Tenesia C. Hall, a former summer fellow in 2000, her fellowship at the Legal Aid Society of the Orange County Bar Association cemented her desire to go into public interest law.

“I’ve always wanted to help people, and that fellowship gave me the opportunity to see how it was from the legal services standpoint, as opposed to the private sector. And that was one of my defining moments in determining where my career was headed,” Hall said.

Hall was so impressed with the Legal Aid Society that she pursued working there until she joined the staff once again as an Equal Justice Works fellow, a two-year fellowship that allows lawyers to work on innovative legal projects that help combat issues like domestic violence, homelessness and juvenile justice.

“I really enjoyed being there as a fellow, as an intern. I really enjoyed the relationships that I developed, and it instilled in me a sense of pride and ability to empower our community that I wanted to continue throughout my career. I’m coming up on my eight-year anniversary as a staff attorney, and I hope to be there for years to come.”