Student Summer Spotlight: Jennifer Mendoza
In this series, students share a firsthand account of their meaningful work in private and public agencies, non-profit organizations and government offices.
This summer I was at the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a non-profit legal organization that specializes in advocating for civil rights through impact litigation. Within the legal department, there are four areas of focus: criminal reform, children’s rights, immigrant justice, economic justice and LGBTQ/special litigation. I was one of four legal interns in the Immigrant Justice Project in the Atlanta office, which is the main office for that particular project. Through my experience there, I did substantial legal research and writing that helped improve my written advocacy skills. I also participated in community outreach and direct representation work at one of the detention centers in Georgia.
Most of the work that I did as a legal intern at SPLC was researching issues or concerns for real life cases that the attorneys were working on. For example, I wrote a memo on potential claims that can be brought under the Mississippi Tort Claims Act, which is mirrored after the Federal Tort Claims Act, and another memo on ways to overcome an 8 U.S.C. 1252(g) jurisdictional bar. I would usually send out the first draft of my memos or briefs and receive edits and very insightful feedback from the attorneys who received my work. I would then take all the feedback and make changes accordingly. My biggest weakness in law school has definitely been legal writing and learning how to write like a lawyer. Getting the feedback has been tremendously helpful and made me a better writer in the process.
Another part of my experience at SPLC was doing outreach. For outreach, a couple of the interns and outreach paralegals would head over to different rural areas of Georgia and canvass in order to find potential clients or issues that are happening with the community. These experiences reminded me why I came to law school. It allowed me to see firsthand the issues affecting immigrant and marginalized communities living in the rural south, and to hone my interpersonal skills and communicate effectively with the community I am advocating for.
For a week during my internship, I was at one of their Southern Immigrant Freedom Initiative (SIFI) locations in Ocilla, GA. The SPLC’s SIFI project provides free direct representation to detained immigrants who qualify at detention centers in the South. Their goal is to have their clients released on bond or parole. There are four locations across Georgia and Louisiana, which are located at or near the detention centers they service. During my week at Ocilla, I was able to go into the Irwin County Detention Center and meet with potential clients and conduct intake interviews. I also helped with bond motions and found records that will be useful for the cases being worked on. This was definitely one of the hardest experiences during my summer, but it was also the most rewarding. I was able to see what is happening on the ground at the detention center and what SPLC is doing to help those who may not otherwise be able to obtain an attorney to represent them.
Overall, I feel that I got a well-rounded legal experience at SPLC this summer. While I worked mostly in impact litigation, I was able to branch out and enjoy other aspects of civil rights and immigration law. While I am still not sure if I would like to do litigation or immigration, this internship helped me become a more efficient researcher, writer and advocate, which will be invaluable skills for whatever area of the law I decide to practice in. I am also grateful to have ventured beyond the Pacific Northwest and seen how the needs, resources and even the law differ in another very different part of the country. I am happy to have been able to have interned at SPLC and am excited to bring all that I have learned with them to my future career.