Maricela Gonzalez was a 3L at UIC Law in Spring 2021 when she externed with the National Legal Advocacy Network. The National Legal Advocacy Network is a non-profit organization dedicated to leveraging legal resources to enhance the capacity and sustainability of the low-wage worker movement through community-focused lawyering.
Externship Program: We’ve designed our program to ensure students are exposed to a wide range of legal areas as they develop hands-on experience in their field placement. What types of projects have you completed, and what areas of law have you been exposed to in your externship?
Maricela Gonzalez: I conducted multiple legal intakes with workers concerned about the workplace violations they were experiencing, which ranged from wage theft to health and safety violations to discrimination. I’ve been able to assist the [NLAH] attorneys in complex litigation fighting to address systemic issues relates to workers’ rights, and I’ve facilitated training sessions on legal services and rights impacting low-income workers. I’ve drafted memoranda, fact sheets, issue briefs, and talking points that compile and analyze paid sick leave policies, wage protection, national origin and immigrants’ rights. And I’ve done legal research on interpretations of administrative decisions and guidelines.
EP: Throughout the course of your externship, which specific legal skills have you relied upon the most? What are some of the skills (legal and non-legal) you have developed and/or strengthened in the field?
Gonzalez: Definitely my communication skills—both oral and written—and my training in methodical and exhaustive legal research. The field placement has strengthened my speaking skills and it’s refined my understanding of what information I need from a potential client as I perform intake. It takes issue spotting to a whole new level to determine what they may be leaving out that would be relevant to their potential case.
EP: Can you describe your relationship with your externship supervisor. Are there any specific skills (legal or non-legal) that your supervisor helped you explore or refine?
Gonzalez: My supervisor was fantastic. He’s become my mentor! He possesses a wealth of knowledge and is passionate about providing access to legal services for low-wage and immigrant workers. I have really honed my interpersonal skills under his supervision. People skills are so important no matter what field of law you practice—the ability to establish and maintain a relationship of trust and confidence with your clients is paramount.
EP: Has your externship influenced your plans for legal practice? Has it shaped your sense of the justice system?
Gonzalez: My externship confirmed my desire to pursue employment law. It is astounding how people who can least afford to lose their earnings are the same who experience wage violations. And that kind of thing can send a worker in a downward spiral where they fall below the poverty line. Remedies are available but often workers are just not aware of what those are.
EP: What was the most meaningful part of your externship experience?
Gonzalez: I worked with a phenomenal group of attorneys and legal organizers who made my externship engaging, and they provided a broad perspective on employment law. The most meaningful part for me was learning that in order to be an effective litigator you have to be quick, calculated, and vicious (in the best way). I enjoyed that each case brought a unique set of facts and allegations that required creative legal analysis.
EP: What advice would you give to future students pursuing an externship at your externship site?
Take that first step and simply apply! Educate yourself on the emerging issues at the local, state, and federal levels. Employment law is a rapidly changing environment so make sure you are knowledgeable of the changes and can evaluate the effects on both the employer and employee side.