Pro Bono Spotlight: VLSP interns – welcome additions to the pro bono family
Posted: 5:48 pm Tue, September 11, 2012
Who doesn’t love summer? As if weekly festivals and al fresco dining weren’t enough, summer also brings with it the arrival of interns!
Each year, Volunteer Legal Services Project of Monroe County Inc. is fortunate to have three interns join us for the summer. In such a small office — VLSP has a staff of 10, plus Executive Director Sheila A. Gaddis — three extra people really makes a difference to both our clients and our permanent staff members.
VLSP typically hosts a law student, a college student and a high school student. This summer, Rachel Lusk joined us from Duquesne University School of Law in Pittsburgh, Pa. Lusk is now in her third year of law school. Vasken Xhaxhollari, currently a junior at the University of Rochester, and Jack Thiemel, who’s now a junior at Pittsford Sutherland High School, also interned with VLSP.
Lusk sought out an internship at VLSP on the advice of Sharon Stiller, a dedicated VLSP volunteer and partner at Abrams Fensterman. “I learned of VLSP during my internship at Abrams Fensterman last year. Ms. Stiller encouraged me to gain experience in as many legal settings as I could and to help a wide array of people, so I did just that,” Lusk said recently.
At VLSP, Lusk interviewed clients seeking assistance with family law matters and unemployment insurance benefits matters. She conducted legal research, drafted memoranda of law and assisted with clinics and outreach activities. Lusk also worked with several judges, VLSP staff and the Monroe County Bar Association on the development of a proposed Help Center to assist low-income people representing themselves in court.
Lusk found her internship at VLSP to be both educational and rewarding. “I enjoy knowing that I am able to help VLSP clients and staff through the work I perform. I have had a good deal of experience researching and writing, but I get great satisfaction knowing that I can apply it in a way that actually affects peoples’ lives,” she said.
Marlene Attardo, VLSP’s staff attorney for kinship custody, worked closely with Lusk during her internship. “Rachel was very eager to jump in and help out where she could. She was willing to listen and learn, and seemed to want to take on as much as she could during her time here,” Attardo said.
The first order of business for Xhaxhollari, VLSP’s college intern, was to help our staff master the correct pronunciation of his last name. Good natured and easy going, he advised us to say “Judge-a-lar-ray.” A staff member observed that having “judge” as part of his name was a sure sign that this intern had honed in on the right profession!
Like Lusk, Xhaxhollari, a double major in political science and economics, assisted with client interviews and clinics. He also provided assistance at a VLSP recruitment presentation for attorneys in the legal department at his school, the University of Rochester.
One of the key projects Xhaxhollari undertook was drafting an article about the early years of Rochester’s annual Campaign for Justice. He interviewed several attorneys who were instrumental in establishing the CFJ, including Eileen Buholtz and Robert E. Brown.
The 26th annual CFJ is coming soon, benefitting VLSP, the Legal Aid Society of Rochester, and the Monroe County Legal Assistance Center, a Division of LawNY. Calls will be made the week before Thanksgiving. The dates will be announced shortly.
As VLSP’s pro bono coordinator, I worked closely with Xhaxhollari. He readily grasped the importance of preserving the history of the CFJ, given its unique collaborative model and the fact that it is among the most successful civil legal services fundraisers in the country. He worked diligently to capture firsthand accounts of the CFJ’s early years.
The notion of being of service to others resonated deeply with Xhaxhollari. “What really captivated me are the ideals that VLSP is based upon. Anyone who has an opportunity to help the society in which they live should take steps to help that society. VLSP does just that. We connect low-income residents of our community with pro bono representation and in the process, we aid in changing their lives. These lofty ideals, coupled with the direct help we provide, truly makes working at VLSP an incredible experience,” Xhaxhollari said recently.
Though several years younger, our high school intern, Thiemel, blended into VLSP’s office family as seamlessly as Lusk and Xhaxhollari. Those of us with teenagers at home could not fail to be impressed by Thiemel’s maturity.
Thiemel assisted with clinics, client outreach and data entry, and helped update VLSP’s Spanish brochures.
“In the beginning, I was quite unsure of what to expect and had never before worked in a professional environment. During my internship, I not only learned a little more about law, but also a lot more about people. Hearing the stories of individuals who have nowhere else to turn has been a very powerful experience for me. I am proud to have worked for an organization with such noble goals,” Thiemel said recently.
VLSP prides itself on providing a quality internship experience. We are honored to play a small part in training the next generation of attorneys. In addition to providing training and hands-on experience, VLSP strives to foster an understanding of the importance of providing pro bono legal assistance.
For the past several years, VLSP’s internship program has been enriched by the generosity of the Legal Aid staff attorneys and paralegals in the Housing Unit who graciously offer our interns the opportunity to accompany them to Rochester City Court and shadow them as they represent clients facing eviction proceedings.
VLSP thanks our summer interns, Rachel Lusk, Vasken Xhaxhollari and Jack Thiemel, as well as Zachary Pike, Katherine Beasley, Mark Muoio and Ariel Cruz of the Legal Aid Society of Rochester’s Housing Unit, and the members of the legal community who stepped up last month to help low-income clients struggling with a wide range of issues including bankruptcies, foreclosures, wills, tax, name changes, unemployment insurance benefits denials, grandparent/non-parent child custody disputes and divorces.
August 2012 Honor Roll
Solo practitioners: Maroun Ajaka; Phillip Borelli; Carolyn Chase; Patricia Gibbons; Phillip Hurwitz; Victoria Lagoe; Lisa Maslow; Santosh Pawar; Laura Taylor; Paul Watkins
Attorneys at firms: Ryan Woodworth (Christina Agola Firm); Donald White (Davidson Fink); Kenneth Kraus (Evans & Fox); Brian Bennett, Eric Haselbauer, Eileen Sahai (Harter Secrest); Gary Muldoon (Muldoon & Getz); Thomas Farace (Nixon Peabody); George Schell (Schell & Schell).
Government attorneys: Rachelle Hoeflschweiger, Jesslyn Holbrook, Katherine Kenney, Jennifer Townsend (Appellate Division, Fourth Department).
Mediator: Robert Hauser (Center for Dispute Settlement).
Web developer: Robert Kostin.
VLSP interns: Rachel Lusk (Duquesne University School of Law); Vasken Xhaxhollari (University of Rochester); Jack Thiemel (Pittsford Sutherland High School).
Linda Kostin is the Pro Bono coordinator at Volunteer Legal Services Project of Monroe County Inc. Contact her at email@example.com or (585) 295-5703.Visit the VLSP Facebook page at www.facebook.com/vlsproc; follow VLSP on Twitter: #VLSP_Rochester