Going into her junior year, Lillian Zazueta decided she wanted to pursue a career in law. Investigating related internship opportunities, the comparative literature major and Russian minor learned about the Pre-Law Project at the Joint Educational Project.
Zazueta signed up for the program, landing an internship at Los Angeles’ Esperanza Immigrant Rights Project last spring. There she started out answering phones and making copies. But she soon took on more significant responsibilities, conducting legal screenings and leading Know-Your-Rights presentations and legal paperwork workshops.
When the semester ended, she was invited to stay on as a summer intern.
Having the opportunity to network with people in the field of law is an invaluable experience.
“Because of my Pre-Law Project internship, I now have job offers from two JEP partner organizations when I graduate,” Zazueta said. “Having the opportunity to not only intern, but to network with people working in the field of law is an invaluable experience that very few undergraduate programs offer.”
The JEP project is a service-learning program designed for pre-law students and those interested in legal careers. It gives undergraduates direct experience with local nonprofit and public interest law firms as well as an opportunity for professional mentorship.
Throughout the course of a student’s eight-week internship, site work is supplemented by personal reflection writing exercises, biweekly group discussions, guest lectures and the completion of an internship portfolio.
During the fall, Zazueta became the project’s student director. She worked hard to develop the program even further to help participating interns and shape them into optimal law school, graduate school and job candidates.
“All of the program requirements exist because they have real-world applications and prepare students for law and grad school applications, and future jobs and internships,” she said.
“Even though the Pre-Law Project isn’t tied to courses like most of our programs, because JEP is at its heart a service-learning organization, we wanted to keep the reflection component with discussions and papers,” said Jacqueline Whitley, director of nonprofit partnerships at JEP and the program’s staff liaison. “We think it’s an important part of learning.”
At the beginning of each semester, the group discussions are focused on perfecting résumés and cover letters as students begin applying for internships. They can apply to work at one of five current partner organizations: Alliance for Children’s Rights, Bet Tzedek, Wage Justice, the Esperanza Immigrant Rights Project and the Los Angeles County Bar Association’s Los Angeles HIV Law and Policy Project.
These organizations offer exposure to immigration law, low-income workers’ rights, pro bono legal services for low-income individuals, children’s rights for impoverished and abused youth, and legal services and policy research support for people living with HIV and AIDS in Los Angeles.
“The Pre-Law Project is a great way for undergrads to get very competitive internships without having to compete with law students for a limited number of spots,” Zazueta said.
Beyond the potential for personal enrichment, the competitive edge the program offers is undeniable.
“Students get experience dealing with the law directly,” Whitley said. “The fact that they can speak to what they saw happening in their work, discover what they really love and what they don’t — that puts them a step above the rest in the application pool and even once they start law school.”