Works and Days


"new mexico"

New Mexico Legal Aid, Reed Winter Externship Program, Elisa Cibils

As a participant in the Reed Winter Externship Program, Elisa Cibils, senior history major, learned firsthand about public service law at New Mexico Legal Aid

In January 2015, Maya Campbell '15 and I shadowed a few of the attorneys at New Mexico Legal Aid (NMLA) in Santa Fe, New Mexico. This experience and the people I met on the trip challenged a lot of ingrained assumptions and stereotypes I had about lawyers. In my mind, the ideal, successful lawyer looked like an overbearing mansplainer. That’s what I thought a lawyer looked like based on popular discourse. But, I was so wrong. I’m sure the stereotypical lawyer figure I just outlined lives in many law offices. But there are so many other types of lawyers that don’t get talked about, like the lawyers I met at NMLA and the other legal service organizations we visited. The attorneys I met on the trip were mostly middle-class white women who had recently graduated from an out of state law school. They were so committed to their jobs, arriving in the office early and staying late to continue their work. These attorneys at NMLA provide free legal services to low-income New Mexicans. Many of the cases they take are family law cases, some are landlord-tenant cases, and others are foreclosure cases.

I learned that public interest law is really multifaceted and functions through a network of different organizations, funds, volunteers, and administrative support. We met with Aja Brooks who led the Volunteer Attorney Program for NMLA. We also traveled to the different NMLA offices around the state, including the Albuquerque and Las Vegas offices. In these offices, we met attorneys and administrative support that were really committed to their community and their clients. We also met with members of outside organizations that provide free legal services. We met with Liz McGrath from Pegasus, an organization that provides legal services for children. We also met Allegra Love, an immigration lawyer working in connection with Santa Fe Public Schools, who provides free immigration legal services to immigrant families. They shared their life stories and gave us career advice. They told us what it was like on the job. I definitely got the sense that public interest law is hard, underpaid, and undervalued. Despite these conditions, the people I encountered in the field were positive, hard-working, and committed to their work and their clients.

Winter Externship with New Mexico Legal Aid

This January, I had the opportunity to spend a few days at New Mexico Legal Aid in Santa Fe. Hosted by alumna Amy Propps ’91, my time at NMLA was probably a bit of a crash-course in the legal aid world. My five days with New Mexico Legal Aid can be best described as a game of question and answer. New Mexico Legal Aid is a statewide public interest legal aid firm that provides free legal services for low-income people and communities throughout the state. Through their various branches located in various cities, they specialize in various types of civil law ranging from family law to property and housing to employment to everything else in between. Just from my short time there, I was able to gain a first hand look into the vast world of legal aid and into the mechanics of exactly what it is that attorneys actually get to do.

When I arrived in Santa Fe, I really had no idea what to expect—either from New Mexico itself or from my time at NMLA. My first time in New Mexico, I admittedly did not know very much about the state’s rich history (nor did I really understand how cold it gets during the winter months). I did, however, know a fair bit about law and the world of public interest law practice. What I didn’t fully know was exactly how diverse, complex, and complicated public interest law could be. Of course, when I got on the plane from Baltimore to Santa Fe, I had had a few hopes and expectations for my externship experience. Having had the longtime goal of attending law school and eventually going on to practice public interest law, the main thing that I wanted to gain from my time at NMLA was a comprehensive look into exactly what the world of public interest law looks like, what sorts of work I could potentially expect to do as an attorney later on, and what sorts of steps I could take to prepare for a life in this field.

When I first arrived in Santa Fe (about two hours later than I had originally planned due to one horrible windstorm over the Midwest and one delayed flight coming from Dallas), Amy and my host, Callie Dendrinos, were waiting for me at the tiny airport. From the get-go Amy and Callie were showing me around and filling me in on New Mexican history and culture.