June 2010 Volunteer Feature: Shari Graham of Skadden, Arps
Skadden extern Shari Graham speaks to the 2009 class of externs about her experiences at The Legal Aid Society
One year ago this month, I was selected by Skadden to represent the firm on an externship that would change my life forever. Working out of Legal Aid's Harlem Community Law Office (HCLO), I witnessed first-hand the indescribable hardships indigent people face when they don't have basic knowledge of their legal rights or adequate access to legal help. Although statistics about New York City's low income population are themselves frightening enough in isolation, the stories behind the statistics are what affected me more than the numbers themselves.
While at Legal Aid, I helped an evicted HIV-positive, illiterate male regain possession of his apartment after a padlock had been placed on his door. I assisted a 92-year old homebound woman fight eviction and get recognition of the succession rights to which she was lawfully entitled. I counseled single mothers who were owed years of child support arrears. I ensured that tenants who promptly paid their monthly rent bills were not forced on the streets because of repeated oversights by their management companies. I argued motions in New York City and Supreme Courts, as well as in front of New York administrative bodies. I negotiated with opposing counsel. And these examples merely scratch the surface. What a nine months it was!
Legal Aid is a place where one must love what she does in order to do it day after day after day. During my externship, I was privileged to work alongside such warm, smart, and devoted lawyers, paralegals, and professional staff. I consider many of these individuals as lifelong friends. I take pride each time I read of a new Legal Aid accomplishment, because I now know first-hand that behind every accomplishment are a number of tireless advocates working around the clock to make a difference in an individual's life.
The first thing I did upon returning to Skadden was inquire as to how I could lead the Legal Aid Associates' Campaign and help raise money for the Society so that more people can gain access to the justice that they vitally need. It's the least I can do, though so much more still needs to be done.