Civil Liberties in the Big Apple


After my 1L summer where I received significant hands-on trial and courtroom experience at the New York Attorney General’s office and the criminal defense division of the Legal Aid Society of New York, I sought a public service experience which would challenge me intellectually and improve my writing skills. I also wanted a job that would enable me to explore fields that were particularly interesting to me, but not a niche job that could potentially pigeonhole me into a certain segment of the public interest world. The New York Civil Liberties Union, the New York affiliate of the ACLU-in fact, their offices are on the same floors in Lower Manhattan-fit the bill perfectly.

I interviewed with two attorneys at NYCLU in early October. Therefore, if it is a place you think would be of interest to you, I encourage you to apply as soon as possible. Most of the staff attorneys are young and you work with them as colleagues, rather than underlings. However, the attorneys are also some of the best in the nation, many having clerked in courts from the Southern District of New York to the Supreme Court. By being upfront about what I was looking for in the application process, I was able to shape my own experience without too many awkward and annoying requests. Indeed, it is always easier to get work you are interested in if you are hired with those subjects in mind, rather than having to sniff around for certain types of cases that may or may not be active when you matriculate to New York in May. I was able to work on national security issues, such as the “Ring of Steel” project being developed by the New York City Police Department, First Amendment issues, such as a creationism case and a discrimination suit against JetBlue, and open government issues, among others.

The NYCLU set up its intern program by pairing interns with attorneys in a mentor-mentee type relationship. While your mentor is your point-person for new projects, you are often asked by other attorneys to help on minor (or major) projects, in which case, you won’t see your mentor for a few days. You may also take advantage of the opportunity to work with ACLU National on certain projects, since many NYCLU attorneys will be brought on board those cases when necessary.

This internship, flexible as it is in terms of timing and type of work, cannot be everything for everyone. Indeed, much of your time will be spent in a small room with no windows doing computer-based research. If you are looking for “courtroom” experience, NYCLU is not for you-though you will go to argument at SDNY/EDNY/2nd Circuit from time to time.

Luckily for me, the fellow interns co-habiting our space were friendly, fun, and smart. Indeed, the entire office is collegial, from Arthur Eisenberg and Chris Dunn, who run the legal department, to the legislative and communications staff. We played hooky as an office on Governors Island and some local watering holes and frequently had lunch together.I fully endorse the New York Civil Liberties Union as a place for passionate public service students. You will improve your research and writing skills and learn a significant amount of substantive and procedural law, both state and federal, that pertains to the practice of constitutional law.

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