A Reflection on my Experience with JusticeCorps

This is part of a series of posts by recipients of the 2021 Career Services Summer Funding Grant. We’ve asked funding recipients to reflect on their summer experiences and talk about the industries in which they spent their summer. You can read the entire series here.

This entry is by Sydney Shintani, COL ’22, a recipient of the Turner Schulman Human Rights Internship Grant

This summer, I had the opportunity to work as a volunteer for JusticeCorps, a national service program powered both by AmeriCorps and the Superior Court of California. I was initially drawn to the JusticeCorps program because of the unique opportunity it provided to directly interact with litigants on a daily basis. Because the program was unpaid, however, I was unsure of whether I would be able to accept the position. I am thus sincerely grateful to the Turner Schulman Award for making possible my summer experience.

As a JusticeCorps summer member, I worked one-on-one with self-represented litigants in family law cases, assisting them with opening, responding to, and amending their cases. Representing Los Angeles County’s self-help centers was an exciting challenge for me, and I am truly grateful to have gained so much legal knowledge and perspective in so little time. It was always a pleasure to come into work every day knowing that I was providing crucial aid, as self-represented litigants must navigate by themselves an extremely complex legal system, attempting to resolve important personal legal matters usually involving their families, homes, and personal safety. As JusticeCorps members, we strove to empower litigants to confidently move forward in their cases with their options understood and voices heard.

One of the most influential aspects of my summer experience was being able to listen to our litigants’ experiences and frustrations with the legal system. Hearing these accounts has profoundly shaped and nuanced my view of the legal system and its defects. As an undergraduate student studying criminology and political philosophy, I have often learned about the disparity in outcomes caused by unequal access to legal resources. My participation in JusticeCorps has directly exposed me to just how unsettlingly disparate these outcomes can be and gave me the opportunity to witness first-hand the many obstacles to justice set by our legal system. Justice in civil disputes is certainly not as accessible as it should be, even in places like Los Angeles County which have more robust legal self-help resources and infrastructure than many other places throughout the country.

Going into my senior year at Penn, I will undoubtedly bring with me the stories I heard during my time with JusticeCorps. My summer experience has taught me the vital necessity of self-help and legal aid services both in California and across the country as well as shown me that I am very interested in pursuing this line of work. JusticeCorps has given me invaluable experience in the field of non-profit legal work and has made it clear that I want to continue working directly with litigants in the future, whether it be in self-help, mediation, or legal aid. Although non-profit legal work can often seem like a constant uphill battle, speaking with these folks and getting them to a place where they felt confident moving forward was always a worthwhile experience for both parties.

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