Externship dispatches: Bridget Lavender L’21
Bridget Lavender L’21, originally from North Carolina, is a JD/MSSP student at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School and School of Social Policy and Practice, hoping to pursue a career in reproductive rights, health, and justice.
In the fall of 2019, I had the amazing opportunity to extern at Women’s Law Project (WLP) in Philadelphia. I had long been in awe of WLP’s work, but at this point in my law school experience I wasn’t quite sure exactly where my career was taking me. However, I knew that the areas WLP worked in, including sex and gender discrimination, workplace equity, and reproductive rights and health, were all of interest to me and aligned with my passions as an aspiring public interest attorney. Looking back now, my externship with WLP was one of the best experiences I had in law school.
Women’s Law Project is a small public interest organization, with seven attorneys who work in their two offices, located in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Their relatively small size in no way hampers their work, though; they are constantly working on new litigation and new policy initiatives and taking on new projects to advance the rights of women, girls, and LGBTQ+ people in Pennsylvania. On my first day, I was assigned a research project looking into the labor protections that domestic workers had in Pennsylvania under federal and state law. I knew quite literally nothing about this area of law, and began feeling a little panicked — how could I do this? Two months later, I submitted a final version of this memo, totaling 26 pages (single spaced!).
Through this project as well as through other projects examining pregnant women’s access to public benefits, arbitration agreements, and employment discrimination claims, and more, I not only learned a lot about new-to-me substantive areas of law, but I also felt my research and writing abilities strengthening each day – and with them my confidence that I would one day be a good lawyer. I had spent the summer before this externship providing direct legal services to the city’s homeless through Homeless Advocacy Project, an experience I loved but that did not give me many opportunities for research and writing. WLP was the perfect complement to that experience. I learned, through working through the projects I was assigned and the feedback I received, how to effectively research and write legal memos.
Outside of the technical skills I gained, WLP did an amazing job integrating externs into the daily life of the office. I was able to attend an oral argument at the federal courthouse on Market Street, an advocacy meeting discussing sexual assault cases in Philadelphia, and several meetings of the Incarcerated Women’s Working Group. In addition, the entire office ate lunch together in the conference room every day, something the other externs and I eagerly joined in on, enjoying the lunchtime conversations surrounding new and interesting legal cases as much as the ones about what movies everyone enjoyed the past weekend. I was able to make strong connections not just with the attorneys in the office but with staff members as well, or other interns — including a med student and an undergraduate student.
Overall, I am so grateful for this experience. In fact, my externship was so rewarding and beneficial that I signed up for another one (with the ACLU of Pennsylvania) the following semester, having realized how much I value working part-time while also completing my traditional coursework. As I prepare to graduate in the spring and begin a public interest legal career, I look back on my externship experience as a turning point in my law school journey – a moment I finally began to envision myself as capable of becoming a public interest attorney, working towards justice and equality every day.