Works and Days

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.

The rest of my week followed in a similar fashion—starting bright and early the next day with a trip to the Las Vegas office about an hour away where the other extern (Elisa Ciblis, also class of ’15) and myself had the opportunity to sit in on a pre-trial briefing with a client, attend a family law hearing at the local courthouse, and get a crash course in Las Vegas food and culture. In the days that followed, we had the privilege of getting to know many different attorneys and hear about their experiences working in their various branches of law, going to court multiple times in both Santa Fe and Albuquerque to see family law and eviction hearings, and staff meetings.

Our entire time was also not limited to New Mexico Legal Aid as we visited Pegasus Legal Services for Children in Albuquerque where we met with founder Liz McGrath who spoke to us about the work that she does as a privately owned and funded organization specializing in children and youth needs, met with attorney Allegra Love who specifically specializes in immigration law, and also went to the New Mexico Department of Justice where we learned a bit more about what sorts of work is done at a federal level office.

Sandwiched between all of these meetings were many casual conversations with people who were people who are truly dedicated to their work and to the communities that they serve. These conversations were perhaps what I cherished most during my time in Santa Fe as they were honest, candid and taught me valuable lessons about law school and careers in law.

I arrived in Santa Fe with a million questions. I am happy to say that when I got on the plane back to Baltimore, I had plenty of answers and many more questions—the types of questions that can only be born from new experiences and a new pathways being opened. My time at New Mexico Legal Aid was inherently valuable because it gave me a new perspective on the law and a new idea of where I want to fit inside this profession.

Tags: winter externship, legal, externship, new mexico