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Environmental Studies

ENVS Blog: Internship Experience with a Law Firm

January 13, 2014

Haley Flora (‘14)

Over the past 5 months I have interned at a law firm in down town Portland called Gevurtz Menashe. The law firm is not an environmental law firm, although my interest in the internship was due to my potential future in environmental law; it is a family law firm.  I was unable to find an internship at an environmental law firm, and I was very lucky to get this internship, as most law firms only offer internships to students who are already in law school. Thus I was very excited at the opportunity to see what attorneys do prior to committing myself to 3 years in law school. I had two major questions that I wanted to address. First I wanted to learn more about what attorneys’ day to day activities are. Like many of my peers I am well versed in Law and Order and Franklin and Bash, but I was right to assume that in actuality attorneys’ work is often much less glamorous. The other question stemmed from a central concern with environmental law in particular; the question of personal ethics, integrity and the law.

I was very lucky to be the first intern that Gevurtz Menashe has ever sponsored. This was an amazing opportunity, but it was also a process that evolved and improved over time. Rather than stepping into a coherent intern role, I took up the role of an office assistant and with the help of my superiors was able to carve out some internship opportunities. Thus a lot of what I did was basic office assistant work: filing, printing, preparing trial notebooks etc. I had some typical intern jobs, like making the coffee, but I also had some great experiences. I learned that Gevurtz Menashe is a very successful law firm for a reason—I got to watch the lawyers kick butt in trial and in depositions. I also got to sit in on attorney-client interactions and watch what services an attorney can provide to his/her client.  I learned that attorneys work long hours, and spend a ton of time researching and writing. They are also on call to their clients, sometimes acting more like a therapist than an attorney. Overall attorneys are very quick and hardworking and can cut through the nonsense.

In terms of my question about integrity, I was curious due to comments I had heard from environmental lawyers. They warned me that in order to support a family and pay off the debt of law school they had to set aside their own ethics and work to help corporations avoid environmental laws. This work was not based on informing the corporations of the law to help them abide by it but based on helping them not get caught. In family law I found that young attorneys have less ability to pick who they represent, and thus they sometimes do represent clients whose interests might not align with the attorney’s personal ethics. However, the role of the attorney is always to represent the interests of his/her client. Thus I came to understand that an attorney can have integrity, but part of his/her job necessitates trusting that the justice system will provide ethical results (for family law this usually means representing the interests of the children).

I had a great experience and would recommend internships in any field. My vision of being an attorney, based largely on TV, was very different than what my experience showed me. I have decided not to go directly to law school, but to wait until I am sure exactly what I want to do with my law degree. The most surprising thing I discovered is the multifaceted uses of a law degree! I am very grateful to the ENVS department and Gevurtz Menashe for allowing me this opportunity. 

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