CULR's Summer Legal Internships

CULR’s Summer Legal Internships

This summer, Columbia students participated in a wide range of legal internships. Check out some of their experiences below!


Renata Castilho, CC’17, Economics and Political Science


Renata’s first internship changed the image she had of “law” as something strict and limiting. On her first day at a small firm in Brazil, she instinctively reached for a fat book titled “Corporate Law”, eager to learn the basics. That intellectual world was her comfort zone – words on a page and a challenge that only went as far as the back cover. Fortunately, however, her office did not condone her bubble. Renata was quickly put in change of research, sent to knock on lawyers’ doors and told to listen to clients’ goals for their businesses. The opportunities for quiet reading only got rarer and, at first, she was frustrated.


“Working was like reading a book that was entirely different every time I opened it,” she recalled. “People changed their minds, and I had to change with them.” Before she knew it, she was in an organic and uncertain facet of the business world that she had never experienced before. “Being part of that amorphous book along with twenty other people was a scary and yet wonderful kind of restlessness,” Renata observed. “It came from falling in love with the crucial details behind a finished product and from turning in bed at night thinking about an unexpected solution to a small problem. Ultimately, my first internship is a page-turner I will never actually finish. I can’t stock it in a shelf when I am done, get a grade for it or rip off the pages I don’t like, and that is what makes the story worth it. “


Jill Chow, CC’17, English, Psychology and Environmental Science concentrations

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Jill is interested in possibly going into either criminal law or environmental law. This summer, she interned at the Staten Island District Attorney’s Office. The internship gave the option of working on Investigations, Special Victims Bureau, Supreme Court and Criminal Court. Jill was assigned to Criminal Court. The Criminal Court works with the police as well as the victim advocates from Safe Horizons. The interns are given the opportunity to work with every department to get a feel for how the criminal justice system works.


She started out working with the complaint room, where she helped to organize files that the assistant district attorney puts together after receiving each new case. In the files are the rap sheets, arrest records as well as any notices the attorney wishes to present to the judge. For the majority of her summer, she worked in AP1, the arraignment court. Her job was to assist the paralegal with writing the Orders of Protection, Orders to Produce as well as keep records of the criminal court notes for the felony cases. The experience in the courtroom allowed her to come in contact with the actual files as well as how the ADAs would decide their bail offers. The most interesting part of the internship is the ability to interact with the attorneys and see how they process their cases. Being court allowed her to see the first stages of all cases, starting from the arraignment, before moving onto trials or pleas.


Jordana Fremed, CC’17, Sustainable Development and Business Management 

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At the Center for Climate Change Law, recently renamed the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, Jordana has done research on the legal implications of green infrastructure installation in preparation for the Earth Institute’s project on the Bronx River Watershed. She also updated the center’s Climate Change Law Around the World page and wrote for the center’s blog about current issues such as desalination and the sage-grouse/wind turbine controversy.


In addition to her research work, Jordana edits pieces written by Prof. Michael Gerrard, the head of the Sabin Center to give a final look before publication. Her favorite part of the internship is the Summer Speaker Series, when every other Tuesday, the center invites influential people within the field of climate change law to have lunch with the interns and tell them about their work. Speakers included a Harvard Law alumna who worked on the BP oil spill and a representative from the NRDC who works on on the growing field of food law.


Julia Leff, CC’17, Undecided


This summer, Julia volunteered part-time for 10 weeks at the Public Justice Center in her hometown of Baltimore, MD. The PJC’s mission is to build a just society, particularly for those living in poverty in Baltimore and Maryland. This non-profit is unique as they work towards their goal in a few ways. The bulk of their work centers around representing clients who would otherwise be unable to afford a lawyer. In particular, they help low-income tenants who have been mistreated by their landlords and workers who have been denied overtime by their employers. Additionally, the PJC in involved in many coalitions and advocates for change in the MD legislature.


As an administrative assistant this summer, Julia’s primary responsibility was to ease the workload of the office as a whole. Her day to day work consisted of activities such as data entry, scanning, and drafting “Thank you” letters to donors. Julia’s most fulfilling yet challenging task this summer was answering the phones. Each day many people stuck in tricky legal situations would contact the PJC asking for help. Julia had to figure out which callers the PJC could assist and all others she had to find other appropriate organizations to refer them to. Through this experience, Julia gained an understanding of the network of legal aid organizations in Baltimore and was able to truly appreciate the PJC’s role in this network.