A legal education at Miami Law in 2015 consists of things a student learns inside a classroom and the formative experiences outside a classroom, and in an office or courthouse with actual practitioners. For law students, the summer is an opportunity to explore the law outside the theoretical world and, in the process, learn much more about practice and the ways in which a lawyer can contribute to society.
Lauren Georgalas, 3L, has already grabbed several opportunities to interact with the law outside class. She spent her first summer as a Summer Public Interest Fellow interning with Catholic Charities Legal Services. “I truly enjoyed the experience, so much so that I volunteered with the non-profit throughout my Fall semester,” said Georgalas. She also participated in the Tenants’ Rights Clinic and was elected the university liaison for the ACLU-UM chapter.
A Summer Public Interest Fellow is one of two funded opportunities the HOPE Public Interest Resource Center offers students to explore public interest law. The fellowship provides students with a placement opportunity in the public sector, a stipend to support their work and a twice-weekly class that explores areas of the law focused on public interest.
The second HOPE-sponsored opportunity is one Georgalas is taking advantage of this year. “This summer I was a HOPE Fellow working at the Young Center in Washington, D.C. as an immigrant child advocate.” HOPE Fellows are given a stipend to fund their public interest work and when school resumes in the fall, they complete a project of their own design to share their experience with the campus at large.
“Being able to work with the Young Center has been an invaluable experience that I am forever grateful for,” said Georgalas. “The Young Center Child Advocates are the last hope for these children.” She added, the staff “takes on some of the most challenging cases and works non-stop to do what is best for these children. It is an emotionally taxing job, but being able to change a child’s life for the better makes it all worth it.”
One of those committed and capable staff is former HOPE Fellow and Miami Scholar alumna, Elizabeth Rieser-Murphy, JD ’12, who was Georgalas's supervising attorney. She has been making a difference with the Young Center since 2013 and is now inspiring her fellow ‘Cane. “Seeing Liz in court speaking up to protect a child from going home to dangerous conditions and succeeding was unbelievable and inspiring,” said Georgalas.
Rieser-Murphy's mentorship comes from a place of gratitude. “I was fortunate enough to have several strong women as mentors before, during, and after law school,” said Rieser-Murphy. “Mentors help you navigate the complex and often unwritten rules that dictate a legal career. I know that without the support and guidance of my mentors I would not be where I am today.”
For Georgalas her summer opportunities have shaped the trajectory of her legal career. “These two experiences have helped mold me into an advocate and have motivated me to continue a legal career as a public interest attorney.” More specifically she hopes to focus on immigration. “To date, I have interned for two summers within the immigration field, and volunteered during the school year with a non-profit immigration legal service.”
“All of these experiences have helped keep me focused on a future career in public interest,” she said. And she credits the HOPE office with those experiences. “I would not have been able to have this summer experience without the HOPE office. The HOPE office is the center for all things public interest.”
Both Rieser-Murphy and Georgalas believe in the benefits of public interest internships even for those entering the private sector. “A public sector internship may be more likely to give you the opportunity to hone your practical skills and contribute meaningfully than a private sector internship,” said Rieser-Murphy. “This is because the needs of the organization are often greater.” Beyond that she said, “many firms are now encouraging associates to engage in pro bono work and a public sector internship can help you build contacts in another field, which may be useful for pro bono purposes.”
“Students don’t have to practice public interest to be able to make a positive impact in the community,” said Georgalas. But she added, “If we are going to actually make a change we are going to have to work together.” Students’ efforts, even a “small time commitment to pro bono” can make a large impact.