Maria Lobato Grabowsky ’25

Essex Newark Legal Services, Newark, NJ

Essex Newark Legal Services is a private nonprofit organization that provides free legal services to Essex County’s low-income residents. Attorneys at Essex Newark Legal Services fight for their clients when landlords attempt to evict them or deprive them of basic needs such as water and electricity. Additionally, attorneys help clients apply for food stamps, Social Security Income or Medicaid. The organization also assists clients with cases of child custody, divorce and domestic violence. In all, Essex Newark Legal Services does the most it can with the funds it has to protect the rights of Essex County citizens.

Because I am fluent in Spanish and Portuguese, one of my roles as an intern was interpreting calls between lawyers and their clients. I translated the process of filing for a divorce, as well as a lawyer’s written argument on a client’s child custody case. I also helped communicate with a Brazilian client about an issue with her food stamps, and when the client heard that I was from Brazil, she was relieved. It was gratifying to surpass the barrier caused by language for some clients and help them receive the legal advice they needed.

Another one of my roles was to contact clients to complete the client intake. My task was to check if potential clients were income eligible, if they resided in Essex County or if there was any conflict with their case. I also noted if they had a court date, the circumstance of the case and any other information they wished their attorney to know. Since I spoke to multiple clients, I heard from domestic violence victims, clients with debilitating disabilities hoping to receive social security income, single mothers wanting child support, and more. Many clients contacted us about their abusive landlords. Landlords evicted when rental assistance checks were sent to the wrong landlord, or because tenants declined to have an affair with their landlord. Other clients could not pay rent because they were diagnosed with cancer and had to pay for chemotherapy treatments, could not find a job since Covid-19 or had multiple children to feed. It was tough to listen to clients’ stories every day, to hear their tears and the desperation and hopelessness in their voices during these phone conversations. However, I felt hopeful that the work I was doing was bringing them a step closer to justice and toward an escape from their current situation.

This internship allowed me to observe lawyers’ ability to bring people out of misery and extreme poverty. I witnessed how lawyers filled clients with hope as they explained their rights, assured them that they would not be evicted or prepared them for court. Observing this made me excited to continue pursuing a justice and law concentration, explore different ways that lawyers can promote justice and become a lawyer who can fight against injustices to help those in need.