Albany Law School will be closed today until 4pm due to the weather.
After only a year of law school, Rachel Bernzweig ’18 did not expect to be representing clients in divorce proceedings. Yet, she finds joy in the Saturday mornings she spends at the Legal Project where she deciphers 200-page-long legal documents, maneuvers wordy contracts and gives hours of her time. She does this in part because of the grateful clients she has the chance to work with, one-on-one, at the organization.
“You wouldn’t believe how thankful and relieved my clients are to get a divorce. It really feels good to be on the other end of that gratitude,” Bernzweig said.
Bernzweig admits that getting a divorce or separation is a difficult process on its own. It is all the more challenging for the people she works with because they are living on low or fixed incomes. Most cannot afford this type of assistance as they file for a divorce, which is why they are so grateful for legal help. Bernzweig sits down with each individual client for three to four hours a session and is satisfied with gaining law experience alone, without a paycheck in exchange for her services. As for her clients, they leave her office feeling relieved that their divorces are moving forward.
“It really feels good to be on the other end of that gratitude.”
The Legal Project, a private not-for-profit organization formed by the Capital District Women’s Bar Association, extends its services only to low-income members of the community. Bernzweig deals with individuals seeking uncontested divorces, meaning that there typically aren’t any disagreements between the spouses about “splitting” property and/or child custody.
Her help allows them to go through the separation process with ease and peace of mind, even on a restricted income.
“I now know how to complete the paperwork and file for a divorce and I’ve helped some lovely people get the divorce they want so badly,” she said.
Bernzweig found out about the opportunity to work for the Legal Project when its representatives came to Albany Law School. After three to four clinical training sessions, she was on her way to becoming a junior clinic member with her own clients and cases. It also allowed her to become an active member of the Capital District Women’s Bar Association.
“I’m going to get a ton of court experience next semester,” Bernzweig said of the Family Violence Litigation Clinic. “It’s a great hands-on learning experience that the law school offers and I get to go to court to actually represent my clients.”
While her weekends are spent on divorce proceeding matters, Bernzweig’s weekdays are filled with more invaluable law experience, including the discovery of her passion for health law. Bernzweig’s work at the Empire Justice Center (EJC) this summer includes aiding low-income, disabled, seriously ill and historically discriminated upon groups with their rights as patients. She is particularly interested in the struggle of the LGBT community’s pursuit for rights equal to non-LGBT.
Bernzweig’s focus within the EJC is on the legal issues regarding her clients’ health. Due to the personal relationships developed in a small firm environment, she immediately noticed the impact she has been making on their lives. She is in constant contact with clients, receiving phone calls from them and tailoring her help to each of their individual needs. The EJC appeals to Bernzweig “because it attacks the issue from all sides — there is a direct client service team, a litigation team, and a policy team.”
During the upcoming semester, Bernzweig will start working for the
Albany Law Clinic & Justice Center's
Family Violence Litigation Clinic, where she will again have her own clients to represent.
“I’m going to get a ton of court experience next semester,” she said. “It’s a great hands-on learning experience that the law school offers and I get to go to court to actually represent my clients.”
Bernzweig takes control of internship and educational opportunities by utilizing Albany Law School’s
Career and Professional Development Center and attending networking events on campus. As if it were her personal hotline, she calls the career center whenever she has a question, sends her resume and cover letters for review, and has worked for organizations based solely on its recommendation.
“You have to take advantage of law school,” Bernzweig said. “There’s a lot coming at you real fast and you have to take control of it.”
She hopes to intern in Buffalo and Rochester next summer.