Princeternship Stories: Maria Jerez ’19, Disability Rights Maryland

I learned so much during my internship at Disability Rights Maryland – about the law, about the office environment and myself. When I first went into this Princeternship, all I knew was that I had a strong interest in law and a sense that I wanted to use that to help people. I wasn’t sure what that meant, and I most definitely didn’t know how I intended to do that. The biggest concern I had about my future profession was being able to mesh those two things together in a way that was interesting and made a difference. In talking to Leslie and all the other attorneys, paralegals and legal advocates at the office though, I saw that it was possible.

I shadowed Leslie during the week and learned a lot about her time at Princeton and her interest in law and disabilities (she also took me out for lunch twice). In the time that I was there, we reviewed three different bills that she is submitting to the state legislature this term. Bills that would, among other things, help stop abusive practices on kids with disabilities and give parents more say in their children’s education. We also met with the mother of a young girl with disabilities, who Leslie had been helping for many years over lunch. It was incredible to see how grateful the mother was for the huge difference that DSM had made in her daughter’s life (she is now transitioning to college). I also helped other people at the office with case intakes, learned about pro-bono outsourcing and how important it can be for families, attended a meeting on behalf of DSM with a coalition of different organizations and learned about an investigation involving children with disabilities. Also, I sat in on a meeting with two lawyers and a child psychologist to help develop strategies for negotiation for an IEP meeting. It was a very dynamic week, and I enjoyed my time both inside and outside the office.

Another aspect of DSM that I enjoyed was the office environment. Coincidentally, I volunteered the week that someone was retiring after working there for 31 years! There was a nice goodbye party at the office, and there I was able to hear stories of how much hard work had gone into their mission over the years and to see that people in the office can be not just co-workers, but also friends. Whatever I do in the future, I would love for that to be true at my workplace.

Though this doesn’t mean that I know exactly what I want to do with my life at this point, I know that public interest law is a wonderful opportunity to mix my interest in law with my interest in helping people, and the importance and benefits of a friendly office environment and a dynamic work experience.