My PILP stipend allowed me to spend my first summer in law school working in a legal services organization getting a taste of public interest law and getting my feet wet in the real world of legal work. Pine Tree Legal Assistance is the state of Maine’s primary legal services organization, providing free legal aid to low-income people. Like most legal services organizations, Pine Tree provides much needed legal aid to individuals who would otherwise completely lack representation in the legal system. By supporting my time as a legal intern at Pine Tree, PILP helped to level the playing field for low-income Maine people facing daunting legal problems.
At Pine Tree I worked on a variety of legal issues ranging from evictions to Social Security benefits to employment discrimination. One of the most gratifying parts of my experience was knowing that even as a first year law student, I was able to provide significant assistance to clients who would otherwise find it very challenging to advocate for themselves. I acted as an advocate for clients in Administrative Hearings with Public Housing Authorities, helping them to retain their public housing or Section 8 subsidy. I advocated for clients with diminished mental capacity to ensure their Social Security benefits would not be reduced as a result of a simple mistake. I negotiated with landlords to allow tenants extra time in their housing, keeping entire families from imminent homelessness. This summer, my PILP stipend helped to provide legal support to many people who otherwise would have been adrift in an intimidating sea of regulations and laws.
Seeing firsthand the difference that legal representation means to low-income people deepened my commitment to public interest law. The need for poverty lawyers clearly far outstrips the availability of legal services for low-income people. The biggest lesson I learned this summer was how much power lawyers have over the lives of their clients. It is essential that those of us with the good fortune and privilege to go to law school, understand the responsibility associated with our new position in society. This understanding was the best reward of my summer PILP stipend experience at Pine Tree.