Internships provide real-world experiences in public interest law for UMass Law students

Interns work on MA housing crisis, legislation and public policy, and access to higher education for those with intellectual disabilities

Alanna Levy and Natalie Peters, JD
UMass Law students Alanna Levy (left) and Natalie Peters learned the importance of building coalitions to advance public policy during their Civic Action Project Fellowship.

Through internships funded by BayCoast Bank, the Civic Action Project (CAP), and a Dukakis Fellowship, UMass Law students saw “policy in action” this summer while gaining practical legal experience that will prepare them for their future careers.

Law students work to abate the Massachusetts housing crisis  

The lack of available and affordable housing has created a housing shortage in Massachusetts. According to the “2022 Housing Underproduction in the U.S.” report by the nonprofit Up for Growth, MA is missing more than 100,000 homes as the commonwealth’s deficit of housing units rose by nearly 100% between 2012-2019. The lack of affordable housing, combined with the end of the pandemic-related eviction moratorium in Massachusetts, has engendered a severe housing crisis in the state.

Thanks to a $25,000 grant from BayCoast Bank, UMass Law was able to place six students in internships to work on this issue in local communities; two with the Attorney General's Office, three with South Coastal Counties Legal Services, and one with a private law firm. 

Madison Rae Schlauder, JD candidate  '24 of Orange Beach, AL, interned at the MA Attorney General’s Office and worked closely with the Neighborhood Renewal Division (NFD) and with the Consumer Advocacy and Response Division. Madison’s work included title searches on abandoned homes and locating responsible parties for repair and eventual occupation.

“Our efforts create more healthy and safe housing options in Massachusetts,” Schlauder said. “In the current climate, housing is hard enough to come by. So. we shouldn’t have so many homes falling into disrepair and being left unoccupied for years. That is where the NRD team comes in.”

In her work with the Consumer Advocacy and Response Division, Schlauder worked with consumers to help resolve complaints regarding landlord-tenant or foreclosure issues. “Having the opportunity to advocate for these consumers and mediate between them and their landlords has allowed me to use my legal knowledge in real-world situations outside the classroom,” she said.

Samuel Daitsman, JD candidate '24 of Walpole, MA, also conducted title searches for the NRD, created handouts for the MA Housing Assistance Fund, and worked on consumer issues related to violations of the Security Deposit Law.

“With the NRD, I worked to help with rehabilitating dilapidated homes in North Attleboro and New Bedford. Seeing the effect of death and intestacy (dying without a will) and the lack of clear lines of successorship helped me better understand why homes fall into disrepair,” Daitsman said.

He and Schlauder created and presented a slideshow on reverse mortgages and the effect they have had on the commonwealth. “Reverse mortgages affect the housing crisis since homes may sit vacant after action is commenced regarding a triggered provision in the mortgage. This leaves no clear owner because the lender does not yet have the home to do with as they please while legal action is pending. The prior tenant, a relative or lessee, may be removed pending litigation of the contract. This can result in an abandoned home where violations can continue to accrue.”

Daitsman created handouts and resources for Mass HAF, a program that helps to keep people in their homes that otherwise could be foreclosed. “When more people can remain in their homes, there is a more secure population, which leads to more economic growth and less potential of neighborhoods backsliding,” he said.

He also worked on gathering clients’ experiences with the Security Deposit Law and how some landlords can place barriers to tenancy. “The less barriers there are, more people move in, and the housing crisis is lessened,” Daitsman said.

“The housing crisis in MA is devastating, and individuals I know are being personally affected by it. I am grateful to have been able to help in any capacity this summer through this housing-focused internship with the Attorney General’s Office,” added Schlauder.

Civic Action Project Fellowship combines work experience and discussions with leaders

Supported by The Boston Foundation, Eastern Bank, and others, the CAP Fellows Program is a 10-week summer internship for graduate students in law or public policy. Students are placed in public or private sector summer internships four days/week and meet once/week for roundtable discussions with leading practitioners in the media, government, and private sectors. 

Both Alanna Levy, JD candidate '24 of Needham, MA, and Natalie Peters, JD candidate ’23 of West Barnstable, MA , completed CAP Fellowships with Levy at the Disability Law Center and Peters with the Clerk Magistrate at the Falmouth District Court.

As a Public Interest Law Fellow at UMass Law, Levy said she is committed to using her law degree to advance individuals’ personal autonomy. “CAP helped me understand the importance of forming connections—with the private sector, nonprofits, the government—and learning what strategies can be implemented to push initiatives into motion in order to make concrete advancements in people’s lives.”

Most of her internship involved legislative work, specifically statutory and regulatory legal research and advocating for certain bills. She was able to observe the actual practice of law and the intersection of law and public policy.

“My supervising attorney emphasized the importance of connections, that it is not exclusively the work of a lawyer to pass bills,” said Levy. “Journalists, lobbyists, and advocates are all key members in this process, in addition to legal expertise and interpretation.” 

Peters, who serves as lead editor of UMass Law Review and President of the UMass Federalist Society, said her internship taught her some of the practical realities and difficulties associated with policy implementation.

In court, Peters said, she saw “the intersectionality of the public we’re trying to help, issues we’re trying to solve, and the difficulties faced by those who must use the tools policymakers give them. I had many opportunities to observe trials and proceedings, where I was able to see passionate, experienced practitioners pursuing justice. I had access to the judges, where I learned much about how law and equity are balanced and some of the factors that are weighed in that balance. I was able to speak with probation officers about the difficulties faced by the populations they serve. I was able to see how clerk magistrates serve their communities and the different factors they must weigh when deciding how to compassionately enforce the laws.” 

Her internship, she said, “was a fantastic opportunity to see policy in action. Public policy impacts real people. Participating in the CAP Fellowship taught me how to communicate objectives, build coalitions, as well as implement policies.” 

2021 Rappaport Scholar
As a Dukakis intern, Jennifer White, JD candidate '23, interned at MA Advocates for Children and worked on the Higher Education Bill, designed to remove barriers to higher education for those with intellectual disabilities and autism.

Michael Dukakis Public Service Internship provides experience in government service

The longest-serving governor in Massachusetts history and the 1988 nominee for U.S. President, former Governor Michael Dukakis endowed a public service internship at UMass Dartmouth in 1996 to provide full-time undergraduate and graduate students with an opportunity to gain experience in government service and to encourage them to consider a public service career.

As a Dukakis intern, Jennifer White, JD ’23 of Hopedale, MA, interned at MA Advocates for Children (MAC). According to White, the organization works to ensure access to education for children across Massachusetts. 

While at MAC, White worked on the Higher Education Bill, which helps remove barriers precluding people with intellectual disabilities and autism from participating in state colleges and universities. She learned about the concept of Significant Disproportionality in Special Education, a process meant to compare students with disabilities in educational settings. She also worked on the organization’s helpline that families can call when they are struggling to access the educational supports and services their children are legally entitled to.

“Access to resources, race, ethnicity, address, gender identity, and mental health struggles should not unfairly influence a child’s right to freely access public education,” she said. “The issues that MAC works on are connected to a whole variety of other issues impacting the trajectory of the lives of children in Massachusetts.”

Date: Year 2022, Degree Type JD, Departments Law School, School of Law, School of Law - Home