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Next Generation Series: Students Reflect on Winter Break Volunteer Work at the Center

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Each year, the Center hosts law student interns for the summer, fall, and spring semesters, as part of its mission to train the next generation of civil rights lawyers. This blog post is part of the Next Generation Series, which include reflections from our interns on their assigned casework.

This past December, first-year law student Brian Gwyn and second-year law student Evan Benz dedicated a week of their winter break to volunteering at the Center. Read Evan and Brian’s reflections on working at the Center below.

Bryan Gwyn

Brian Gwyn, Class of 2016

I was thrilled with my internship experience in December. This experience has helped put my passion for education law into the broader context of civil rights. I am extremely impressed with the work that is done at the Center to improve outcomes for excluded communities, and I have a new appreciation for the variety of legal strategies other than litigation that are useful in resolving legal issues.

During my week at the Center, I worked on various research and writing tasks. As a 1L, I was not sure what skills I would have to offer. I was pleased that I was able to jump in right away. I was assigned research on a subject I knew nothing about. By researching relevant statutes, regulations and cases, I developed my understanding of this one issue and was able to further the Center’s work. Going through that process in a real-life setting helped me improve my efficiency in using legal research skills on a practical question.

The most powerful experience of my week was when I traveled with staff to Halifax County to help issue settlement checks in the Brandy Creek tax refund case. The trip helped me understand the reality that some legal issues are not settled for many years. It also put faces on the issues resulting from the exclusion of African American communities from access to public water and sewer, municipal services, quality schools, and political power. I also gained an appreciation for how Center attorneys are able to be both professional and approachable at the same time. In my experience, many people often lean heavily towards one extreme or the other, but the Center team serves as good examples for my future work.

Evan Benz

Evan Benz, Class of 2015

Before arriving to for my first day at the Center, I was not sure what to expect. However, the Center staff was well-prepared with several assignments for the week, and I appreciated the opportunity to immediately contribute to on-going litigation in a meaningful way. I conducted document review of discovery responses in a superior court case, and researched various pertinent legal questions.

The highlight of the work week was the chance to travel with Center staff to a community meeting in Hoke County, where they provided support to a group of citizens in the process of organizing to improve their local nonprofit water utility. In addition to the meeting itself, the car ride down and back was a great opportunity to learn from two attorneys doing important, inspiring work. The Center’s staff has exceeded any expectation I had in terms of making me feel part of the team, providing me with substantive tasks and helpful guidance, and demonstrating what lawyering in the public interest is all about.

As I reach the midway point in my legal education, experiences like this week at the Center are formative to the shape my legal career will take. The projects I’ve worked on represent exactly the kind of work—community-focused legal support and advocacy—that I hope to do after law school, and these are exactly the kinds of clients—passionate, intelligent people who have been maligned or ignored by the system—that I hope to serve. It is deeply re-affirming to know that there are attorneys in the field doing this kind of work already; that they are doing it exceptionally well, with great energy, skill, and commitment; and that they care enough about a movement that is larger than themselves to take the time to mentor aspiring civil rights lawyers like myself.

I hope to continue to be involved with the Center’s work, whether through volunteering, collaborating on events at the law school, or through observations of trials and oral arguments. I look forward to any opportunity to learn from the Center’s staff and to contribute to the great work they’re doing.


Posted by Bethan R. Eynon on Mon. February 3, 2014 10:41 AM
Categories: Next Generation Series
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