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Despite not meeting in person, VLP interns say they cherished experience

August 5, 2020 Rob Abruzzese

In March, before the courts shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Brooklyn Bar Association hired a team of five interns for the summer.

The court system came to a halt for in-person activity on March 16, and the VLP didn’t know what that would mean for their future interns — could they have interns if nobody was showing up to the office or the courts? Could they have work for the interns?

“One of the biggest undertakings that the VLP had this summer were interns,” said Sidney Cherubin, the director of legal services at the VLP. “They were all hired in March and then wanted to know what was going to happen come June. Of course, we took them all on and they’ve been very busy this summer and very helpful.”

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Nicole Yagupolsky from Brooklyn Law School.

There were five interns in total — three from Brooklyn Law School, Michael Kenneally, Nicole Yagupolsky and Matthew Boyd, all rising 2Ls; Alex Hong, a 3L from Cornell University; and Bess Murad, an undergraduate student from Bucknell University.

During a recent Zoom meeting with Judges Elizabeth Stong and Ellen Spodek, the interns discussed their unique experience of working for a legal services provider during the pandemic.

Across the board, all of the interns said that they’re glad that the internship still happened despite the fact that they never once visited the VLP’s offices. Several discussed that what they learned was very different from what they had been learning in law school.

Alex Hong, a 3L from Cornell University.

“I was just surprised — when you are in law school everything is just a brain strain, maximum effort, but at the VLP I learned that a little goes a long way,” Kenneally said. “Just getting clients on the phone and talking to them is sometimes the most important thing to them.

“Giving clients a little push in the right direction is sometimes all they need because, unfortunately, it might be someone trying to take advantage of them who perceives them as powerless, and us being there saying ‘do this’ or ‘do that’ has a profound effect,” Kenneally continued. “Sometimes you can have a positive effect, and it’s a lot easier than you might think.”

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“I learned that there is no one-size-fits-all case,” Yagupolsky said. “In law school you have these cookie-cutter cases that always go in one direction. But in reality, you have to do some extra research usually and find that nuance that makes the case stand out and gives you that edge to advocate for your clients.”

Matthew Boyd from Brooklyn Law School.

Murad was the only non-law school student in the group. She explained that she took the internship because she wanted to see if a career in the law felt right. After the summer, she said that she’s going full-speed-ahead to law school.

“I enjoyed every moment of it and I definitely want to pursue a career in law,” Murad said. “I learned so much, I worked closely with [staff attorney Daniel Wilson] this summer. I was nervous that because of the pandemic I wouldn’t have enough to do or there wouldn’t be an internship, but there was plenty of work to do as this organization is needed by all New Yorkers.”

The VLP is an organization that provides pro bono services to indigent Brooklynites in need of legal services. To encourage volunteers, the VLP often provides continuing legal education for free in exchange for attorneys who agree to handle cases pro bono.

Michael Kenneally, a rising 2L at Brooklyn Law School.

Among its many activities this summer, the VLP held a continuing legal education seminar on how COVID-19 has impacted custody cases. The VLP has also helped attorneys improve their resumes in response to the recession, has volunteered to help settle estates for families affected by COVID, and has provided free life-planning documents for healthcare workers.

“I’m really happy to have been with the VLP this summer,” Boyd said. “It’s great spending this early impactful part of my legal career amongst such dedicated attorneys that are doing amazing and necessary work to protect low-income New Yorkers … I’m sad that we didn’t get to hang out in the office and run around all of Downtown Brooklyn going to the various courts, but I’m grateful for my experience. It has really been an impactful summer.”


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