CCD: Tell us about your experience. What were your responsibilities?
MR: I worked in the DotHouse Legal Clinic at the VLP, a Medical Legal Partnership with DotHouse Health, a health care center in Dorchester, MA. I would describe my role at the clinic as an intake case manager. My supervisors assigned me cases referred to the clinic from DotHouse Health. We used a case management program called Legal Server for casefiles, case information, and communication purposes.
Upon receiving a case, I searched the client’s name on the program and reviewed case information already on file. Depending on the legal code listed on the client’s case, I prepared questions that assessed their legal issues whether it be in relation to housing, guardianship, or divorce. Intake calls were about forty to sixty minutes long. I took notes during the interview, collected documents relevant to their case, and collected signatures for consent forms. At the end of the call, I updated information on the Legal Server database and upload documents. Once my supervisors reviewed the intake information, they told me to either: prepare a case summary for Ropes and Gray for probono attorneys, refer the client to another organization, or provide external information to clients (instructions for FOIA requests, how to navigate USCIS website, etc). I managed about four to eight cases every week. On Thursday’s I met with two supervisors and a fellow intern for a Case Review Meeting. I presented my progress on my cases for the week and discussed potential courses of action for cases.
CCD: How did you get the opportunity? What resources at BU or elsewhere did you use?
MR: I chose the VLP for an internship because when I met representatives from the organization at a Center for Career Development career fair, they informed me that interns work directly with legal and non-legal professionals with case work. I sought to have experience in the legal field beyond administrative work. The VLP allowed me to work directly with clients and advocate for them, serving as a liaison for them with the VLP.
CCD: What was the best thing about the experience? What was the worst?
MR: The VLP maintained a social environment considering all operations were remote. People interact mostly through zoom-staff break meetings, zoom-holiday parties, and informational zoom-events. All clinics were invited to these zoom events. I attended several meetings, and everyone was extremely warm and welcoming. The independent and dependent work balance allowed me to apply knowledge supervisors instilled in me on my own. I was able to build self-confidence and problem-solving skills independently and refine those skills during team meetings. I was really close to all three supervisors; I was able to cultivate a close relationship with each. Damaris was my primary supervisor. We spoke during weekly intern meetings and emailed frequently. Occasionally we virtually met outside out-side of the work setting to have casual conversation. We fostered a mentor-student relationship, something I am incredibly grateful for.
My responsibilities were overwhelming at first because I was new to VLP operations. Each course of action had different steps and requirements; there were many databases to familiarize myself with; I was unknowledgeable about the legal vernacular used in documents and verbal conversations. However, my supervisors were extremely patient with my learning process. We curated a safe space and made communication essential in everyday operations. As a result, I felt comfortable asking questions when I was lost or uncertain about something. After the first few weeks of case management experience, I felt proficient and confident when handling new cases. Eventually, work was no longer overwhelming.
CCD: What was the most memorable moment of your experience?
MR: Before starting the internship at the VLP, I thought I was not equipped with the proper social capital to intern at a professional organization because I only had experience at minimum-wage jobs. My supervisors and experiences at the VLP taught me that I am capable of entering professional spaces, adapting, and exceling there. As a student of color, my input, opinions, and perspectives are invaluable and an asset to any organization that has the opportunity to employ me. It was the first time professionals told me not to thank them for the position because I deserved to be there. Rather, they thanked me. I was shocked; my immediate reaction was to cry. I now have mentors willing to guide and advocate for me in spaces, even when I am not physically present. My largest challenge was overcoming self-doubt once fueled by stereotypes and social inequalities resulting from my socioeconomic and racial background. My newly found confidence awoke hope for my future, inspiring me to take initiative and enter spaces I once thought were not accessible and could I not thrive in.
CCD: What advice would you give to another student about making the most of an internship, job, or other career-related experience?
MR: During the transition from High School to Boston University, many advisors and key speakers deplored fitting in, instead encouraged finding a place you belong. To clarify, “fitting in” denotes changing oneself to belong and “belonging” indicates that someone feels they belong in a pre-existing space as they are. In both cases, I am expected to have a seat at a table, whether I fit in or belong. But what if I want my own table? What then? My experience at VLP and guidance from Damaris made me realize that “fitting in” and “belonging somewhere” is not feasible for people like us –women of color from low-income backgrounds in predominantly White spaces. I have been inspired to construct my own table and seats with my confidence and capabilities. In the meantime, I will occupy seats at pre-existing tables and collect the tools necessary to build my own table.