My Summer as a Legal & Policy Intern at the New York City Bar Association
By Ishani Sachdeva, Indiana University Maurer School of Law ‘25
I always knew that internships provide real-world exposure to students while giving them a platform to establish professional relationships, but it wasn’t until this summer that I got to experience it. On May 17, I walked into the New York City Bar Association’s landmark building in the heart of Manhattan and was welcomed by architectural grandeur that was nothing short of exquisite, and then by my supervisors in the Policy Department, Maria Cilenti, Senior Policy Counsel, and Mary Margulis-Ohnuma, Policy Counsel.
I undertook this ten-week internship as a Legal and Policy Intern with three goals in mind: applying the legal concepts that I had learned in law school, cultivating effective communication skills, and building networking skills. And I can confidently say that I have not only been able to accomplish all my goals, but I have also experienced personal development by being more attentive and observant of the work environment.
Successfully Applying 1L Law School Concepts
Working at the City Bar challenged me to continue my learning process and apply legal concepts from law school. At the New York City Bar Association, the summer internship goes way beyond busy work. I started my work with the Task Force on the Rule of Law, a committee that discusses and deliberates on issues such as due process of law, the protection of fundamental rights and the equal administration of justice by an independent judiciary. I collaborated with the Task Force on a research assignment focusing on “What Ethics Rules Should Govern the Supreme Court?” The assignment required an in-depth understanding and application of constitutional law concepts such as how to balance the doctrine of separation of powers with the system of checks and balances.
I also attended meetings with a Working Group—including professors, experts, law firm partners and members of good government groups—examining the process for nominating, appointing, and confirming judges to the Court of Appeals, which is the highest court in the state of New York. With the goal of improving transparency and accountability throughout the nomination process, my research included obtaining legislative history of the respective constitutional and statutory amendments dating back to 1977 and 1978. Learning how to use research platforms such as Westlaw and LexisNexis in law school came in handy to accomplish this assignment.
I was fortunate to also work with the Education and the Law Committee, conducting research regarding student absenteeism. As with the other projects, I applied my research skills to policy questions, merging law and policy in an interesting and relevant way.
Cultivating Effective Communication Skills
Efficient communication is needed in all types of environments that involve human interaction. Undoubtedly, the legal profession is no different. The policy department was able to foster an environment where asking open-ended questions was encouraged. I was hesitant at first, and when I asked if I could ask a “stupid question,” I was told that “There’s no such thing as a stupid question.” Now, after asking hundreds of questions throughout the summer, I can verify that Maria and Mary definitely meant it. From watching committee members interact with one another in times of disagreement, to observing how my supervisors would competently communicate their thoughts and perspectives in a room full of people, I learned that communication is indeed a two-way street that can embolden mutual understanding among all parties.
Building a Professional Network
“It is Not What You Know, But Who You Know” was the title of an article I had read before starting this internship, and I instantly knew that I had to start building connections from day one. Throughout the summer, the City Bar hosted a plethora of events that allowed me to network with people not only within the legal industry but also connected me with experts from other industries. Some of my favorite events included Summer Associates & Interns Annual Reception 2023, Milton Handler Lecture on Antitrust, and Debating Ethics Standards for United States Supreme Court Justices.
Attending at least one event every week permitted me to expand my professional network and broaden my educational horizons. The highlight of the internship program was undoubtedly the World Law Congress Conference, the first day of which took place at the City Bar. The conference commenced with opening remarks by City Bar President Susan J. Kohlmann; the President of Ecuador, Guillermo Lasso; and retired Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy. The theme of this year’s conference was “Peace Through Law” and therefore a lot of the events focused on protecting the rule of law to promote peace and prosperity in the world. The second day of the conference was at the United Nations headquarters, and was joined by King Felipe VI of Spain, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, and Justice Kennedy. Not only did I get to listen to these world leaders in real time and absorb everything they had to say about law and their journeys, but I also had the opportunity to personally interact with them. And yes, I shook hands with the King.
Since my internship began, I have developed professional relationships with my supervisors, enjoyed a hearty breakfast with City Bar President Kohlmann at The Red Flame Diner across the street (the unofficial cafeteria of the City Bar), attended a legislative hearing about New York City’s housing crisis at City Hall, and attended multiple meetings with government officials, senators, and professors. Above all, I have developed a new sense of professionalism and an unhindered view of what it means to be a part of the legal industry.
Law school classes teach legal concepts but do not cultivate real-world work competency like an internship can. Well-executed internships not only support professional development, but also augment the symbiotic relationship between the intern and the employer. Internships are especially valuable when employers like the New York City Bar Association perceive them as a source of valuable work product. For law students, they quintessentially yield a robust educational and experience-based pipeline into the legal profession.