by Melanie Fontes J.D.’20
I was fortunate to work at the Civil Rights Division (CRD) of the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office during the spring semester of my 3L year. I chose to focus my law school work on civil rights lawyering, and this placement offered me the opportunity to understand the role of state actors in this effort. CRD did not disappoint. During my three months at CRD, I worked alongside lawyers enforcing state and federal laws to combat discrimination in everything from housing to education to immigration. I leave law school with a greater appreciation for public service at the state government level.
Over the course of the semester, I supported both the investigative work and the litigation in which CRD is engaged. While much of law school focuses on the appellate process, my time at CRD centered on the work that precedes litigation and the early stages of trial work. I was able to interview Commonwealth residents whose children have been bullied in school and whose employers have unfairly denied them medical leave. I practiced compiling supporting documents by writing drafts of complaints and witness affidavits. I learned how to connect people with resources like non-profit groups to help them get the fastest and most effective legal relief. CRD taught me that litigation is not always the answer and that other forms of dispute resolution are necessary for civil rights lawyering.
My time at CRD also provided me with the opportunity to build my legal research and writing skills. I witnessed collaboration with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Consumer Protection Division as CRD pursued a case against an individual engaged in notario fraud. I researched various causes of action in Section 8 housing discrimination and banking practices to understand the viability of escalating investigations to litigation. I even had the chance to work with the legal librarians to conduct legislative history research to defend against First Amendment challenges.
Perhaps most importantly, I am deeply grateful that I was able to support the Commonwealth’s efforts to support residents in the COVID-19 crisis. Although we worked remotely for the second half of the semester, I saw how attorneys and staff quickly shifted attention to supporting hundreds of people facing housing and employment insecurity. It was inspiring to participate as CRD extended itself to support the many people writing into the Attorney General’s Office while simultaneously fighting back against the federal government and corporations’ attempts to infringe on civil rights. I look forward to seeing how else CRD supports the Commonwealth through this pandemic and economic crisis.