For an aspiring litigator, new opportunities at Yale

What do you do for an encore after an intense and rewarding spring semester in the New York City Program on Finance and Law?

If you’re second-year student Stephanie Rivas, you land a summer clinical internship at Yale Law School.

Rivas has won a coveted spot in Yale’s Jerome Frank Legal Services Organization. As one of two student attorneys in the organization’s Criminal Justice Clinic, she’ll work to represent people who can’t afford private attorneys, doing everything from client interviews and research to writing legal memoranda, dealing with opposing counsel and making court appearances to argue motions or present evidence.

“I wanted to be in court and represent clients myself, under supervision,” Rivas says. “I knew that if I went to a firm or another type of internship, I wasn’t going to get that. It was very important to me to keep practicing those skills.”

Rivas previously developed her litigation skills as a member of SUNY Buffalo Law School’s Domestic Violence and Women’s Rights Clinic.

“I truly enjoyed interacting and meeting with our clients in the clinic,” she says. “I learned so much from them, things that you can’t find in a textbook. It’s a skill to get the right information from your client while also catering to their needs, and I plan on continuing to perfect this skill. The clinic has been one of my most rewarding experiences during law school. It has furthered my interest in becoming a litigator.” 

Rivas also worked last summer at the federal public defender’s office in Rochester, and before that with Legal Aid in her native New York City.

“People go through difficult situations every day,” she says. “I’ve worked in a criminal law setting, so we expect people to come to us with these problems. We all have rights and need someone to help us out with legal representation. We’re not all familiar with the law, so any type of help is a blessing.”

It was her instructor in the Domestic Violence and Women’s Rights Clinic, Clinical Teaching Fellow Christopher Moellering, who suggested that she apply for the Yale fellowship, which starts May 19 and pays a stipend for the summer’s work. Clinic staff interviewed her by phone, and “I received an offer the next day,” she says.

Rivas is the first SUNY Buffalo Law student to work in the Yale clinics. At the Law School, she has served as submissions editor of the Buffalo Journal of Gender, Law and Social Policy; as treasurer of the Black Law Students Association; and on the Faculty Student Relations Board. 

She had never been to New Haven, but traveled there to find a place to live. “It’s very different from Brooklyn,” she reports. “I’m a big-city girl, and it’s kind of a small-town place.”