Helping Farm Workers’ Rights: My Summer Internship in Georgia

Fact: in law school, you will receive lots of email.  Also, at some point, you’ll overlook one that is of critical importance.

Last February, I received an email about an internship.  I skimmed the email, and saw something about Georgia, and something about farms.  I figured I wasn’t interested in agricultural law, and certainly not in the South.

Yet, for some reason, I didn’t delete the email.  Some time later, upon rereading the email, I was really glad I hadn’t.

The email came from Georgia Legal Services Program’s Farmworker Division in Atlanta, Georgia, a non-profit organization that represents Georgia farm workers primarily in wage and hour and discrimination cases.  My experience working at an employment law firm was what inspired me to apply to law school, so this was absolutely of interest to me.

Excited, I replied to the email in hopes that GLSP might be interested in hiring a 1L.  After we exchanged some documents and had an interview at the PILC Fair, it appeared that they were.

Hooray!

Having never spent much time down south, I anticipated major culture shock.  Other than omnipresent sweet tea and politeness, the incredible friendliness of my coworkers was among the bigger surprises (we Northeasterners can be suspicious of such behavior).   But really, acclimating to that was easy.

One of my main job responsibilities was conducting legal research related to our cases.  At first, I wished I had taken a few more LexisNexis tutorials, but in due time, the search engine and I came to develop a kinship of sorts.  A couple of my favorite research topics were corporate officer liability and anti-retaliation provisions in employment contracts – probably not so exciting to most, but to me, pretty interesting stuff.

Yeah, yeah, I know. (cartoon from nataliedee.com)

As a small office, when a deadline draws nigh, everyone pitches in to ensure that it is met, and that our work product is as flawless as can be.  For the other interns and I, this could mean poring through documents for useful information (more exciting than one would think), drafting affidavits and other court-filed documents, or doing a bit of Spanish to English translation work.

Outreach trips are the heart of the Farmworker Division’s work.  Farmworkers, particularly those from other countries, are all too often unaware of their legal rights, and the organization seeks to fill this gap through visiting agricultural workers in person and disseminating information.  As a summer intern, the outreach trips in which I participated ran the gamut from visiting a group of farmworkers whose job conditions were good (always nice to see) to stumbling upon a rural neighborhood in which seemingly everyone we met had negative experiences in agricultural work.  Plus, as I mentioned in my last post, I loved having the opportunity to see parts of Georgia I would never have otherwise seen.

Our handy-dandy map of what's grown where in Georgia.

My ten weeks flew by, and I was sad to see them come to an end.  On the 14-hour drive back home, I munched on muscadine grapes and contemplated my experience at GLSP.  I had become a better and more efficient legal researcher and writer, had improved my rather rusty Spanish abilities, and had gained skills working with a diverse clientele that would doubtlessly serve me well as a lawyer.

In a broader sense, I learned that amazing things can happen when dedicated, passionate people work together for change.  And much to my surprise, I loved Atlanta and have expanded my 2L job search to include the whole eastern seaboard – the South may not have seen the last of me.  In the meantime, Georgia will be on my mind.

Left to right: Aikta Wahi (NYU ’12), Emily Martin, Annie Matsko, Dawson Morton (NYU ‘99), Rebecca Miller (NYU ‘03) and Luella (21 mos.)., Leah Lotto (NYU ’09), Tim Warden-Hertz (NYU ’09), me, and Andrew Hewitt.

Want to learn more about farmworker legal issues? Here are some stories to check out.

Dateline NBC, “Children of the Harvest” (aired July 26, 2010)

The Colbert Report, Interview with Arturo Rodriguez, President of United Farm Workers of America (aired July 8, 2010)

This entry was written by and posted on August 16, 2010.
The entry was filed under these categories: Internships/Jobs
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