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Expanding employment options during the pandemic

With an assist from alumni, students gain unique summer work experiences

Madeline Brashear had just received a job offer for the summer before her second year of Loyola law school.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic arrived.

“I’d hoped to stay in Chicago for the summer, but that quickly changed in mid-March,” Brashear says. As she moved home to Arizona to quarantine with her family while finishing spring classes online, Brashear wondered whether she’d be able to replace her Windy City offer with a remote or local summer position.

The pandemic sharply and suddenly curtailed the ability of many employers to offer internships, clerkships, and summer associateships to law students. “Students in the full-time division only have two summers to get that critical working experience,” says Maureen Kieffer (JD ’02), assistant dean for career services. So, the School of Law acted quickly, creating a bridge program for new grads who hadn’t yet found jobs and for those whose new employers had pushed back start dates. Many students took advantage of additional slots at Loyola’s clinics, while public interest graduates had access to an expanded summer stipend program.

The law school also asked alumni to be inventive about employing students. “We launched a micro-internship program, encouraging lawyers who weren’t in a position to offer a full summer internship to think about discrete projects they could give a student,” Kieffer says.

12,000+

The School of Law has over 12,000 alums working in locally, nationally, and internationally.

Tess Feldman (JD ’12), who manages the Immigration Law Project at the Los Angeles LGBT Center, offers remote internships to students.

Remote teamwork

Tess Feldman (JD ’12), who manages the Immigration Law Project at the Los Angeles LGBT Center, responded to Loyola’s call by adding a second summer internship—Madeline Brashear’s—to the one she’d already committed to offer. Brashear wrote complex briefs, conducted research for a variety of asylum cases, and prepared motions for the LA immigration court, among other tasks.

“As uncertain as I originally was about supporting interns remotely, it was a gift to have Madeline’s hard work for our clients,” Feldman says. “She put in a great deal of time and went the extra mile on her research.” 

To make up for missed face-to-face learning, Feldman asked her interns to read specific publications and listen to podcasts and then write weekly summary reports on what they’d gleaned. “That exposed them to topics they’d have learned about had they been with me,” she says. 

“What made working remotely so successful was that Tess—an amazing supervisor—was very intentional about the time we had together over Zoom,” says Brashear. “Since I couldn’t just pop into her office, I made sure I came to a video meeting prepared to ask the questions I needed to complete a project.”

This geographical challenge helped Brashear learn even more, Feldman says. “Madeline did extra digging on her own when she couldn’t reach me right away,” she says, “which helped her grow in a way she might not have on site.”

Responding to the pandemic

Eric Fish (JD ‘06), chief legal officer at the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) in Washington, D.C., had hoped to hire a new full-time attorney this year. A change of office locations, then the rise of COVID-19, nixed that plan. “Because of our unique role within law and healthcare policy, the writing was on the wall that we’d need help responding to the pandemic as well as to general issues,” says Fish.

When Loyola’s career services team asked if he could take on some students this summer, he hired three—Catherine Feorene, Nicole Harris, and Milea Moye—as well as a fourth student from Boston College. “I knew that with Loyola, I’d be able to grab some top-quality students who had experience in health law and could apply that knowledge in a practical way,” says Fish.

The students worked on a project about physician burnout—which received a commendation from the FSMB’s Washington director—and conducted extensive research on issues that have emerged during the pandemic, such as how working from home affects data access and workers’ compensation claims.

“Without the students we had assisting us this summer,” says Fish, “the FSMB and state regulators wouldn’t have been able to respond as well as we have to daily changes in the COVID environment.”

Feorene, who like Fish’s other interns, is staying on this fall, says she was “pleasantly surprised at the huge variety of work we’ve gotten to do and how hands-on we can be. This internship has made me realize I’d like to work in a policy or government role. It was the perfect opportunity, even though it was last-minute.”

“Even though there haven’t been live hearings during the pandemic, people still need legal assistance and we need to move these cases along.”

Loyal Loyolans

Gregg Rzepczynski (JD ’87) of the Chicago firm Gregg Rzepczynski & Associates Ltd. has a long relationship with Loyola’s Office of Career Services. “I usually have a law clerk in the office, and I always go to Loyola for hiring—not just because of loyalty, but because Loyola produces quality hires,” he says.

This summer, Rzepczynski, who specializes in corporate, securities, and real estate law, hosted an internship for Sara Smith, now a 2L. With few people in the building and a near-empty office, Rzepczynski and Smith both felt safe working on site, practicing social distancing and wearing masks when they were in the same room.

“Sara did everything: completed administrative tasks, helped draft or respond to complaints, worked on discovery matters, and edited and proofread,” says Rzepczynski. “Even though there haven’t been live hearings during the pandemic, people still need legal assistance and we need to move these cases along.” 

“Gregg was really available to me and willing to pass on everything he knew, which I really appreciated,” Smith says. “It was a shame that the courts were closed and there wasn’t a lot of litigation, but I got every other kind of experience.”

The alumni who lent a hand in creating summer work experiences say they see helping Loyola lawyers-to-be as an important way to give back to their law school and the profession.

“Loyola was instrumental to my success and to making me the person I am today,” Rzepcynski says. “This is one small way to give back and foster relationships with tomorrow’s lawyers.” --Gail Mansfield


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