Caitlyn Smith spent nine months at two back-to-back internships at the Volunteer Lawyers Project in downtown Portland, where an attorney and two paralegals offer legal help to people who can't afford a lawyer. A senior English major from Etna, Maine, she plans to attend law school after graduation.
Have you always wanted to be a lawyer?
Yes. I just always believed in innocent until proven guilty. Some people just need people to speak for them. They get intimidated to walk into a courtroom. I want to be an advocate in family law. There’s a huge need for that.
What kinds of things did you do at the Volunteer Lawyers Project?
Client intakes over the phone to see what we could do for them and to see if they fit within the income guidelines. If we weren’t able to help, we’d connect them with the Family Law Hotline. I also did a courthouse assistance project in Lewiston. Attorneys would come to the courthouse and give free consultations to help with legal paperwork. Sometimes I would sit in on those sessions, or attend domestic violence court and mediation sessions. I would shadow the attorney and sit in on status conferences with a judge. I also went to motions day with the head attorney.
What was your favorite part about interning at Volunteer Lawyers Project?
Speaking to clients who thought they had nowhere else to go, who thought they had hit a dead end. And I was able to give them some help. “That’s the best news that I’ve heard in a really long time,” they would say. One woman with kids who was a victim of domestic violence said she felt she had no way out. I gave her the Abused Women’s Advocacy Project phone number and the form she needed to file. When she heard there was a way out, it really stood out to her. Sometimes I would feel like a therapist. Sometimes people would just need to be listened to. Just talking to them helps them, just giving them information helps them.
Photo by Shandani Charles '11