BBA Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Summer Fellowship: End of Summer Reflections

Over this summer, the BBA was excited to grow its Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Summer Fellowship Program, providing essential work experience for six outstanding law students through paid summer internships in public interest offices. This year, we partnered with the Office of the Massachusetts Attorney General, Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Massachusetts, Committee for Public Counsel Services, Massachusetts Office of the Inspector General, and the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office. The stipends for these positions was made possible with the support of individual donors and funding from the BBF Beacon Fund, the Charles P. Normandin Fund and generous firm sponsors Foley Hoag Foundation, Nutter, and Pierce Atwood.

Our third year of this program proved to be successful, with law students Kajahna Matos (UMass Law – Dartmouth), Dhairya Bhatia (Boston College Law School), Alfred Spencer (Suffolk University Law School), Jessie Baek (Boston College Law School), Catherine Garcia Summa (UMass Law – Dartmouth), and Travis Salters (Boston College Law School) providing support for these offices, developing relationships with attorney mentors, and participating in BBA professional development programs. See what they had to say about their experiences below!

If your office is interested in supporting or participating in this program, please reach out to Solana Goss at sgoss@bostonbar.org.

End of Summer Reflection: Kajahna Matos

2L, UMass Law – Dartmouth

Summer Fellow, Committee for Public Counsel Services

Through the Boston Bar Association’s Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Summer Fellowship Program, I had the honor of interning for the Committee of Public Counsel Services (“CPCS”). I was an intern for the Public Defender Division at the Boston Trial Office this summer along with six other interns, and we were each assigned to various attorneys who gave us assignments throughout the summer.

This summer was certainly an interesting one, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, as we have had to face the unique difficulties of working remotely. Navigating this current unprecedented time has been challenging, but CPCS did an excellent job of making interns still feel like they were part of the office family. The Office hosted weekly intern events that were well-executed remotely. First, The Intern Speaker series were given every Wednesday and Friday, which is when guest speakers and/or presentations were offered to address issues about diversity and inclusion in the legal profession. Next, we had the Coffee Break series where we met different attorneys in the office and got to have fluid conversations about their work at CPCPS every Tuesday. Then, we each had Case Crunches on different days of the week-mine was on Thursdays- and this is where we were in a group with other attorneys discussing a complicated case and brainstorming different legal strategies and best advocating avenues for our clients. Last, we had criminal defense trainings on different topics randomly every month where we were taught how to approach certain situations and how to prepare the best arguments on those topics.

Through my internship, I was able to enhance my confidence in my legal research, writing skills, and client relationships. I was lucky to have been assigned many different assignments on a variety of topics. Some of the topics that I did legal research on consisted of the Attenuation Doctrine and a Fugitive from Justice charge. I also wrote different motions to suppress, one on a Show-up ID and the other based on statements. At the same time, I continued to enhance my writing skills by being tasked with providing a memorandum based on an armed robbery. This was a personal goal of mine as I wanted to feel more confident in my legal work products, and I was able to accomplish this through my first real-life legal memorandum. Luckily, COVID-19 restrictions were lifting throughout the summer, so I was also able to watch in on different court proceedings. Whenever I could not attend an in-court proceeding, I was able to remotely join and watch how judges navigated their courtrooms.

The highlights of my summer were being a part of a homicide case and working on a community project to help eliminate jail and prison phone call costs. I have always wanted to work on high crime or serious cases, and I was given the chance to this summer alongside an incredible attorney who kept me very involved throughout the case. I also worked on a community project where I was doing my research in figuring out how to end jail and prison phone call costs throughout Boston. I was able to connect with individuals who had loved ones that were affected by the financial burden of phone call costs. Therefore, I was trying to do my part to advocate for jail and prison phone call justice.

I am extremely grateful for the personal relationships I was able to develop in such a short period of time and remotely in this internship. I connected with two attorneys at CPCS who came from the same background as me and/or shared the same interests as me. These attorneys cared very much for my success and always pushed me on my assignments by giving me helpful feedback to apply to my future legal career. These attorneys heightened my interest in working for CPCS upon my graduation because the CPCS office runs more as a family rather than just colleagues. 

Summer of 2021 is one to remember, and I am grateful that I spent this summer at CPCS. Thank you to the Boston Bar Association for making this summer experience possible.

End of Summer Reflection: Dhairya Bhatia

2L, Boston College Law School

Summer Fellow, United States Bankruptcy Court

Through the 2021 Boston Bar Association’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Fellowship, I had the opportunity to intern with the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Massachusetts in Chief Judge Christopher Panos’s chambers. Remotely, I observed hearings for consumer and commercial bankruptcy cases and was able to research a couple of novel issues and provide recommendations for those issues.

This summer provided me an opportunity to learn more about the issues that arise in bankruptcy from discrete technical questions to the broader policy considerations that underlie the Bankruptcy Code. For example, I researched issues surrounding the dismissal process of a Chapter 7 bankruptcy for abuse of its provisions and the controversial undue hardship standard that a student loan debtor is required to meet in order to discharge their student loan debt in bankruptcy.

While researching dismissal of a Chapter 7 for abuse of its provisions, I learned about the development of the process, which culminated into the codification of a means test that would determine whether abuse of the Chapter 7 provisions shall be presumed. This topic introduced me to the recurring theme of the competing interests between creditors recovering payments and fresh starts afforded to honest debtors. I also was able to learn about arguments that drive statutory construction and why a means test to determine abuse was implemented.

The more interesting topic I had a chance to research during my internship was how student loan debt was handled in bankruptcy. As students, we are particularly sensitive to this topic, especially with news of the student loan industry increasing along with American households’ level of student loan indebtedness, and the Administration’s efforts to cancel student loan debt or provide other types of relief during the pandemic. Having been able to spend so much time researching the student loan debt discharge jurisprudence, I was able to learn about the two tests that courts consider when determining whether or not student loan debt created undue hardship on a debtor and the debtor’s dependents.

To better understand why the undue hardship standard exists, I tracked the history of the student loan debt exception in the Bankruptcy Code. By tracking its history through researching the development of the provision and reading Congressional reports, I learned that ultimately Congress was weary of a hypothetical student who would take out student loan debt to pay for a college education, receive a high-paying job, and then discharge that debt in bankruptcy upon graduation. It is unclear to me as to whether students actually committed such acts, but the result was that student loan debt would be treated the same way as judgments that people received for committing fraud, driving under the influence, or domestic support obligations. Regardless of the validity of Congress’s concerns, the reality is that the viability of the student loan industry takes precedence over the student loan debtor.

Though I concluded my internship by researching what other avenues are available to student loan debtors who are unable to meet the undue hardship finding through the court’s equitable powers, I still find myself thinking about student loan debt exception and the policy implications of it. In the United States, Black people often have more student loan debt than their white counterparts. Women hold more of the student loan debt than men. Notwithstanding these disparities, student loan debt is treated differently than other unsecured debts. Thus, this internship gave me insight about how the American legal system continues to exacerbate racial and gender disparities. As I continue my path to becoming a lawyer who wants to combat the deeply engrained white supremacist patriarchal attitudes in the American legal system, I have no choice but to be cognizant of this reality.

End of Summer Reflection: Alfred Spencer

2L, Suffolk University School of Law

Summer Fellow, Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office

My summer spent working with the Chelsea District Court trial team and the Integrity Review Bureau (IRB) has helped me to better understand what it means to be an attorney. Not only has it opened my eyes as to what it takes to be a good attorney, it has helped me to think about what it means to pursue justice.

Working with the Chelsea District Court trial team has fostered my interest in victim advocacy and alternative solutions to incarceration. When thinking about the legal process and what it means to be a prosecutor, people quickly associate it with the prosecutor fighting zealously with the defense and that “winning” is all that matters. I learned that this assumption is an oversimplification of the complex job that a prosecutor needs to do. Prosecutors must consider whether incarceration will be best for the community, the defendant, and also needs to consider the victim. I am grateful that I was able to witness Drug Court firsthand and learn about the many ways that both sides can work together towards that common goal. The many discussions we had about victim advocacy is also something that will stick with me and continue to color my approach moving forward. Hearing about the difficulties that victims face has also inspired me to try and find ways to advocate for them and to find creative solutions to issues that they face.

Working with the IRB has helped me to appreciate the amount of trust that prisoners and their families put into the system when requesting that their case or sentence be reviewed. Many of them have been incarcerated for over a decade and often this is their last chance for release. It has also made clear to me the tough choices that the attorneys working in the IRB must make. When reviewing someone’s case and sentence all the details matter, regardless of how small they seem. It’s a balancing act of wanting to help people who may have had an unfair trial and/or been sentenced unfairly and needing to protect the community. Having witnessed the work that is done and the care that is given to each case has been eye opening.

Overall, this summer has solidified my interest in and my determination to pursue a career in criminal law. I will take what I have learned at the courts and with the IRB into my legal clinic this upcoming 3L year and it will continue to color what I do in the future. Everyone I have worked with has helped me to better understand my goals and what I can do to help make the legal profession more equitable for everyone. I am definitely looking forward to getting back into the court room in the near future.

End of Summer Reflection: Jessie Baek

2L, Boston College Law School

Summer Fellow, Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination

Through the Boston Bar Association’s Diversity & Inclusion Summer Fellowship Program, I interned at the General Counsel’s Office for the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD), sponsored by the Pierce Atwood Law firm. I had a fully remote, but extremely rewarding, internship this summer and had the opportunity to regularly meet with the different Commissioners at the MCAD to learn about their practice.

One of the most important things I learned this summer was about the MCAD’s role in adjudicating discrimination complaints. In the state of Massachusetts, all discrimination complaints must first be filed with the MCAD. From that point, after the Complainant has submitted his/her complaint and the Respondent(s) has filed his/her position statement, the MCAD works through its investigative process to determine whether probable cause exists. If probable cause is found, the Commission Counsel assists the Complainant through a conciliation and a public hearing where they hear their final order. Understanding this process put into perspective a lot of the work that I did at the MCAD, from observing conciliations with Complainants and Respondents, to writing a legal memo on the privilege that attaches between the Commission Counsel and a Complainant. Some of my other assignments consisted of writing a disposition on an employment case, completing discovery requests (interrogatories and a request for production of documents), researching case law that supported Counsel’s argument in motions to the court, and compiling a database of laws evoking the MCAD’s jurisdiction.

Throughout my remote internship, what I appreciated the most about my experience was the openness and willingness of the MCAD’s Commission Counsels in meeting with me to answer questions, inviting me to attend their upcoming conciliations and appeals, and making time to debrief with me after each observational opportunity. This made the remote internship extremely personal and allowed me to build strong, interpersonal relationships with the different attorneys.

I also want to thank my mentor, Acting General Counsel Deirdre Hosler, who always went out of her way to make sure that I was meeting all of my goals through the internship. We met regularly over Zoom on a weekly basis to discuss my progress on assignments and have ongoing conversations about how we see anti-discrimination work being furthered through the MCAD’s mission. Her commitment to eradicating discrimination in the state of Massachusetts inspired me to stay true to my passions and remember what led me to law school in the first place.

End of Summer Reflection: Catherine Garcia Summa

2L, UMass Law – Dartmouth

Summer Fellow, Massachusetts Office of the Inspector General

I first knew that my internship with the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) was going to be a phenomenal legal experience during the interview process.  I was taken aback with how my interviewers – who would later be my supervisor and mentor – took the time to learn about my military service and were genuinely interested in what I could bring to the Office as an intern.  When we started the internship, we were remote and I was nervous about not having any interactions with my fellow interns and other members of the legal division.  It was especially nerve-wracking as a 1L with zero experience in legal work aside from school.  My anxiety was quelled over the first few days when Jenny, our supervisor, reached out to the interns daily, scheduled video conferences to discuss concerns or assignments, and included us on every legal division meeting.  I instantly felt like part of the team. 

My first assignment was to write an internal memo on the Inspector General’s role on a particular board.  I dove into the research and quickly learned that Massachusetts has many, many General Laws.  I also learned that I love researching.  It was exciting to learn new things during my research for the memo that I would have otherwise never come across.  I also enjoyed picking apart statutes and analyzing how they applied to the OIG, if at all.  With my mentor’s help, I learned about other methods of obtaining information when I got stuck like asking a Social Law librarian for references.  I received positive feedback on the memo as well as constructive criticism that has helped me become a better legal writer and that I will carry with me throughout my career.  After discussing the project with Jenny and how I wanted to continue sharpening my legal research skills, she assigned me numerous research assignments that ranged from civil procedure questions to finding precedent cases and information to assist with the Office’s current investigations.  My favorite research assignment involved investigating how other jurisdictions have changed their hiring criteria involving applicants with past criminal history.  In working on this assignment, I discovered that many states are revising their hiring policies to take a more holistic approach in hiring applicants with past criminal history.  This assignment was important to me because I know first-hand how certain hiring criteria disproportionately affects people of color.  The assignment also reaffirmed what I already knew about the Office’s commitment to increasing diversity within the legal profession, and I was proud to take part in it.

Leaving the Office and the relationships I developed is difficult, but I am leaving with quite a bit: a greater sense of confidence in myself; a group of mentors who were instrumental in my success this summer and who I will continue to reach out to throughout my career; contacts in numerous government organizations, including the SJC, and friends within the legal community who I am excited to watch do great things.

End of Summer Reflection: Travis Salters

2L, Boston College Law School

Summer Fellow, Massachusetts Office of the Attorney General

My experience working in the Constitution and Administrative Law Division of the Massachusetts Office of the Attorney General exceeded all my expectations. Heading into the summer, I hoped to practice legal research and writing, while also shadowing attorneys as they moved through their cases. I assumed I would work steadily on one or two cases, receive some feedback from my supervisor, and start preparing for my next academic year. Yet, on my first day, I received three assignments from three different attorneys. The first assignment required me to participate in a moot court with an attorney as she prepared for an upcoming oral argument. Another attorney requested a brief on a legal question regarding a recent Supreme Judicial Court decision, while another attorney asked me to draft a motion for an approaching court deadline. After receiving these assignments on the first day, I initially thought they mistakenly sent these to the wrong person because surely a first-year law student can’t be expected to conduct this meaningful work. However, I quickly realized that these challenges were opportunities to grow as I received tremendous support from a host of attorneys.

Throughout these two months, I worked on six different cases ranging in topics including retirement law, health law, and family law. I wrote memos on questions of statutory construction, drafted motions, participated as a judge in a moot court, and assisted with a multi-state amicus brief.

In addition to these meaningful work experiences, I received mentorship, guidance, and teaching from some of the brightest people I’ve ever met including Amy Spector, LaRonica Lightfoot, David Marks, Kim Parr, Elizabeth Kaplan, Doug Martland, Julie Kobick, Adam Cambier, and many others. Throughout my time working with them, everyone demonstrated their commitment to justice and the truth. During one of my first assignments, I recall pointing out the fact that the Commonwealth could lose a case if a particular argument was raised. I’ll never forget the attorney responding, “if that is the truth, then we must lose.” In an ever-polarizing, divisive, and adversarial world, that moment of vulnerability for the truth encouraged me to remain optimistic. If someone with decades of legal experience is optimistic, how can I not? 

I was also encouraged by the Office’s genuine, intentional conversations and strategy about viewing their work through a lens of racial equity. Again, this demonstrated commitment to justice stood out throughout my short time in the Office and will leave a lasting impression of how I view my own work.

I’m thankful for this incredible opportunity granted by the Boston Bar Association, I’m proud of my capabilities developed by Boston College Law School, and I’m grateful for the amazing relationships that I’ve established, which I intend to carry on throughout my legal career in Boston.

Funding for the position with the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office and the Massachusetts Office of the Attorney General has been provided by the Boston Bar Foundation (BBF) Beacon Fund. The position at the Massachusetts Office of the Inspector General has been sponsored by the Foley Hoag Foundation. The position at the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, District of Massachusetts is made possible by the Charles P. Normandin Fund, the position at the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) is made possible through the law firm Pierce Atwood, and the position at the Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS) is sponsored by the law firm Nutter. For more information about how to support the BBF, please contact Solana Goss at sgoss@bostonbar.org.