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BY MARIADELA VILLEGAS BARRIENTOS ’21
What My First-Year Summer Legal Internship Was Like

It's true: you can get a legal internship as a first-year (1L) law student! And they can be incredible additions to your legal résumé and invaluable in clarifying your career goals. Get a sneak preview of what these internships might be like, as one law student reflects on her summer

My summer internship in the Hidalgo County District Attorney’s office almost didn’t happen.

There wasn’t a “legal intern position available” post on a website or a bulletin board; I simply picked up the phone and asked if they had any room for a legal intern. Two days later I was sitting in a conference room with the District Attorney himself and his first assistant. Within minutes of the interview starting, I could tell that they cared a lot more about me getting first-hand legal experience in all phases of the criminal process than I had originally imagined.

The DA and his assistant explained that when they graduated law school, they were thrown into the water without learning how to float first. They made it very clear that by the time I finished the summer internship, they wanted me to feel comfortable in a courtroom setting. After spending four out of five days a week in the courtroom assisting two prosecutors for two months, I can say they achieved their goal: I actually felt comfortable sitting and addressing a judge in the courtroom!

Even as a first-year law student, I was assigned to the Felony Division primarily because a team of prosecutors needed bilingual interns to assist with a coming trial. So, on my year day, I met the two prosecutors who would be my guides and mentors for the next two months: Cregg Thompson and Gabriela Hernandez. Working with them, I saw up close how two very different styles of prosecution can complement each other perfectly. The experience taught me that prosecutors don’t all follow one specific recipe for dealing with crimes, that each case is vastly different from the last, and that incredible thoughtfulness is required to come up with a fair sentence.

My summer internship included attending multiple trials at court, countless pleas, daily interactions with defense attorneys, and numerous meetings with victims related to cases. Even though sitting in on two trials from beginning to end was certainly an invaluable learning experience, I believe that the most fruitful portion of my summer with the District Attorney’s Office was sitting in the courtroom every morning and going through the day’s criminal docket. It was in those mornings that I saw exactly how a plea works, how an arraignment is carried out, how defense attorneys and prosecutors use every second of their time outside the record to negotiate and come up with plans, and how cases end up being scheduled for trial.

What I never expected to see so closely during my internship, though, was just how much of the day-to-day work also involved comforting victims of crimes and their family members.

It is common for people to forget the human side of the prosecution profession, and it is easy to think of prosecutors as “heartless,” given what they do. However, all of the prosecutors I worked with thoroughly examined rehabilitation possibilities and whether or not those possibilities are in the best interest of the victims involved before.

I don’t think I would have had considered prosecution if it weren’t for the Summer Fellowship Program at New England Law, and after having completed the internship, I believe I may have found a career path I want to follow after I graduate law school.

I urge every incoming 1L law student to truly explore all the possibilities they can when looking for their first internship and to take advantage of opportunities before them. Your legal career possibilities aren’t confined to a single area, and your summer internships shouldn’t be either!

Mariadela Villegas Barrientos is a student in the New England Law | Boston Class of 2021.