FreeState Student Attorney Jennifer Mercer Talks About Her Internship

Jennifer Mercer, a rising second-year law student at the University of Maryland School of Law, was recently profiled by UMBC’s online alumni magazine.  Here’s what she had to say...

Jennifer Mercer, a rising second-year law student at the University of Maryland School of Law, was recently profiled by UMBC’s online alumni magazine.  Here’s what she had to say about her summer internship with FreeState Legal Project:

Interning for FreeState Legal Project has been a wonderful experience so far. My clients are low-income members of the LGBT community. I help them get access to critical legal services which they need but cannot afford. Since FreeState is very small, no two days are the same, as there is so much to be done! We are a fairly new organization, but we have grown tremendously in the past few years. This is due in no small part to founder and Executive Director Aaron Merki ’05, political science, who is also a UMBC graduate (and UMBC’s Rising Star Alumnus of the Year in 2010).

I have learned a great deal already about the substantive law issues affecting low-income LGBT clients, such as family law issues, legal name and gender changes, discrimination cases, immigration, and more. Due to the rapid and relatively recent advance of society’s acceptance of LGBT people, there is a striking lack of legal precedent in these areas. Therefore, a large part of my job is researching issues and constructing the best possible work product out of limited information. I do this with my clients in mind, as important parts of their lives depend on it. After my work is reviewed by my supervisors, it gets sent to clients or to the court. I’m proud to do work that makes a direct impact.

It is hard to pick a thing that I am most excited about, but the first thing that came to mind was my work on juvenile justice. FreeState sponsors a LGBT Youth Roundtable which consists of leaders from many agencies which impact the lives of LGBT youth. I work on the Juvenile Justice Subcommittee along with several juvenile public defenders and prosecutors. Right now, I am surveying existing research on the state of incarcerated LGBT youth in order to develop strategies for further research. We are looking at best practices for caring for these youth, and will draft a model policy to show to policymakers. The assignment is perfect for me, considering my senior capstone project (and URCAD presentation) was about incarcerated adolescent girls more generally. I have the opportunity to build on my existing knowledge, which is wonderful.

I think the most vital skills I am learning come from the actual interactions I have with my clients. Learning how to talk to clients, who are often distressed at their situation, and to meet their problems with legal solutions, is critical. That being said, I think it is equally important to be able to take out the legalese when speaking to clients. I do my best to make sure they understand what is going on with their cases, and answer their questions as needed. My internship is teaching me how to be a compassionate, client-focused attorney. That is something I will use for my whole career, as are the connections I have made with others in the legal community who are similarly minded.

Read the rest of Jennifer’s interview here.

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