Final Reflection: My Life and the Law Firm

I spent my summer working at Jezic & Moyse, LLC, a law firm in Wheaton, Maryland. The law firm primarily works on criminal defense cases, but I worked in immigration. The immigration department is a small department, with only three attorneys and two full-time employees, but they take on a lot of cases in Maryland, DC, and Virginia. My supervisor, Himedes Chicas, is the head of the immigration department, and an expert in “crimmigration,” which is the aptly-named intersection between criminal cases and immigration. I was connected to this job through Emily, a Jepson graduate from last year’s class, who was the firm’s first intern last summer. Much of my expectations of the work I would do this summer were informed by her, just as my supervisor’s expectation of the level of work completed by Jepson students was also informed by her work last year. (As a result, we both had high expectations for the summer.) I very much enjoyed my internship this summer; I learned so much about immigration law and I fulfilled many of the objectives I had hoped to at the beginning of the summer.

I wrote my personal plan paper before I had committed to this internship for the summer. In fact, I believe I wrote it before I even knew about this opportunity. As a result, some of the goals I described in my paper did not end up matching up with my internship, but many did. One of my biggest goals was to use this summer to explore the legal field. I have taken several classes with focuses on the law, but I knew that enjoying those classes might not necessarily mean I would enjoy law school, or further, being a lawyer. (After all, I loved my algebra classes when I had a great teacher, but I am positive my math career is very over.) I accomplished this goal far better than I ever expected when I wrote my personal plan paper. I spent my summer at a law firm, so I was surrounded by people who were committed to practicing and learning about the law. Moreover, I was able to do several deep dives into case law and legal research. I knew practically nothing about immigration law when I started the internship, so I had a lot of reading to do in order to learn so I could do my job well. This meant that my unscheduled time was spent reading relevant Appeals Court or Supreme Court opinions, and a 1000+ page copy of Title 8 of the Code of Federal Regulations sat on my desk for easy access for most of the summer. Not only was I very “proximate to the law,” as I had stated I wanted to be in my personal plan paper, but I found that I still really enjoyed dissecting legal issues outside of the classroom, too. I accomplished my biggest goal of the summer: evaluating whether I want to continue to pursue going to law school after graduation. My answer is decidedly yes.

I wrote extensively in my personal plan paper that I wanted to work in the non-profit sector. This was something I was unable to accomplish this summer. The law firm where I worked was noticeably profit-driven, and thus I was unable to get a feel for the nonprofit work environment, which was an interest of mine. It remains an interest I have, because I feel that the part of the internship I liked least was the law firm’s organizational culture (more on that later). I did learn that immigration non-profits do very similar work to the work done at the law firm, but I would imagine that the work environment is different at a non-profit, and I was unable to learn what that is like. However, interning at the law firm did accomplish another one of my, albeit less ambitious, goals for the summer: to work a normal, 9-5 job. I set this as a goal for myself because before this summer, I had never done it before. I had an internship the summer after my freshman year, but I worked from home the majority of the time, so I didn’t have the experience of going into an office every day to work. This summer I definitely fulfilled that goal for myself. Not only did I have to go in to an office every day and work in my own designated cubicle, but I had an hour-long commute in each direction on the metro and I had to wear business professional clothes every day. While I would prefer a less traditional dress code in the future, I found that I didn’t mind the long commute, and I adjusted quickly to life in my cubicle (although I would’ve liked access to a window). My objective of working a “normal 9-5” job was met, and I can confidently enter post-graduate life next year knowing how to function in such an environment.

When I accepted the internship at the law firm, I did so with certain expectations based on what Emily told me about her time there. Using her comments and the information my supervisor told me, I wrote my site description paper with my expectations of what I would be doing this summer. The majority of what I expected to be doing this summer were writing briefs, doing legal research, completing citizenship applications, meeting with clients, and going to court. I did get to do all of these things; I just didn’t do them all to the extent that I had expected. For example, I didn’t think that I would be able to contribute very much to writing briefs or doing legal research, as both were new to me when I arrived at the law firm. It was pleasantly surprising to me how much I was able to do in both of these areas throughout the summer. I began by editing legal briefs and motions, which got me exposed to them. But by the end of the summer, I was able to contribute to writing them. In one particular memorandum, I was delegated an entire section to write on my own, and most of it ended up in the final version without much editing from my supervisor. (This was one of my prouder accomplishments from this summer, and I wrote one of my weekly reflections on the topic.) On the other side, I only met with clients a handful of times during the summer. In immigration law, the cases progress so slowly that it was impossible to see a case through from beginning to end in just nine weeks, which inhibited my utility in client meetings. (For perspective, many of the cases I was working on had court dates set for 2020 or 2021.) Despite this, I did get to meet with a few clients, just not as many as I had expected from before the internship started. Likewise, Emily went to court last year far more often than I did. Unfortunately, this discrepancy was just due to the nature of the cases that the firm was working on this summer. They had no individual hearings scheduled for the summer (which are the big, important hearings). I was able to attend several master calendar hearings and one bond hearing, but those are mostly routine, and the longest one took about fifteen minutes. Last year, the firm just happened to have a lot of interesting cases scheduled to go to individual hearings during the time Emily was working there, so she went to court often to see them.

Throughout my summer at the law firm, I found that sometimes I had trouble coming up with topics for my weekly reflections. This was not due to lack of interesting topics at work; rather, I found that I was observing surprisingly few examples of leader and follower relationships and leadership theories at the law firm. There was very little face-to-face interaction at the firm whatsoever. The attorneys each had an office and the other employees each had a cubicle, and every workspace (except for mine, actually) had a phone. The way communication worked at the law firm was almost exclusively via phone. If an attorney needed something from a paralegal or wanted to tell a paralegal to do a certain task, they would call their phone. If the paralegal had a question for the attorney, they’d do the same. Any updates regarding cases were done over the phone, rather than in-person meetings. In fact, in all my time there, I never saw a single employee meeting. There was a single conference room, but it was almost never in use. The most fascinating thing was that multiple times I could overhear both sides of a conversation between an attorney and a paralegal when standing five yards away from each of them talking on the phone—in fact, if they had each just stood up, they could make eye contact with each other and continue the conversation face-to-face. The physical space in the office contributed to the sense of separateness among the workers, as well. For example, there was no break room or common area at all in the office. There was no place to sit with another person that wasn’t at a desk or in the formal conference room. As a result, everyone ate lunch at their desk. This was a very interesting observation to make in the first week, but after that first week, it became harder to connect leadership theories to the work at the office, because I simply could not observe many instances of leadership throughout the office. That said, I was still able to write weekly reflections, and although I had to try a little harder than I was expecting, there were still ways to connect leadership theories to the law firm.

There was definitely one leadership course that stood out among the others as the most helpful in preparing me for the work I did during my internship: critical thinking. The Jepson curriculum is lauded and unique because although it does a fair amount of teaching information, it also teaches students how to think. This skill is useful in any situation and applicable across all disciplines. In my opinion, my critical thinking class was one of the classes that most taught me how to think, and this skill was incredibly useful to me this summer. I was tasked with doing research on subject areas I had never studied before and writing motions in a writing style I had never attempted previously. Additionally, the legal framework of thinking and writing is most similar to the structure I was taught in my critical thinking class. In class, we needed to break down our arguments into finite parts before we built them back up into a full essay. In the legal writing I did this summer, the broken-down parts became the motions themselves, even sometimes in list style. I was able to directly apply the framework I used in my critical thinking class in order to write the motions in my internship.

I am very pleased with my experiences this summer at Jezic & Moyse, LLC. I am still unclear what my future holds, but I am now more confident that I will be able to adapt to different work situations with success. I enjoy legal work and I hope to pursue that further after graduation. While every job is bound to have some drawbacks, as mine did this summer, I am grateful to Emily and all of Jepson for the great summer I’ve had.