Learning by Connecting with Clients
Micaela Kitchen, Class of 2024
Students at Drexel University Kline School of Law are required to complete 50 hours of pro bono service to graduate. 3L Micaela Kitchen has gone far “above and beyond” that requirement: She already has logged more than 100 pro bono hours with a variety of organizations.
Kitchen finds satisfaction in providing legal services to those most in need. “Public interest work is highly rewarding,” she says. “Specifically, the work I've done has been in direct client services. I think it’s really valuable to meet one-on-one with clients, learn about their lives and form connections with them, and really feel like you’re being an advocate.”
The Association of American Law Schools recognized Kitchen’s dedication, selecting her for the 2023 Pro Bono Honor Roll.
A record of service
Kitchen’s first taste of pro bono work came during her 1L spring semester with the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, or HIAS, Pennsylvania, where she handled intake interviews with new clients. During her 1L summer, she worked as an immigration legal intern at Nationalities Service Center in Philadelphia.
As pro bono coordinator for the law school’s Immigration Law Society, Kitchen also arranged and participated in a spring break trip to El Paso, Texas, where nine law students worked with Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center to help detained immigrants seeking asylum.
Kitchen went on to work with the Pennsylvania Innocence Project in Philadelphia through a Drexel Kline Law co-op placement during her 2L spring semester. During this experience, she evaluated an incarcerated client’s innocence claim and analyzed potential police misconduct and Brady violations related to their conviction. She also interned this past summer with Community Legal Services’ Workers’ Rights and Advocacy Project team in Philadelphia. At CLS, Kitchen worked with immigrant clients seeking U visas and negotiated with clients' employers for compensation owed under Philadelphia and PA employment laws. Kitchen also volunteered at CLS criminal record clearing and utility clinics, which provide day-long opportunities for community members to seek legal aid.
“[I]t’s a rare experience to have in law school—to be able to represent a client in court in front of a judge.”
During her 3L year, Kitchen is working as a Certified Legal Intern with the Defender Association of Philadelphia’s Criminal Litigation Clinic.
During the fall semester, Kitchen and other Drexel Kline Law students represented clients facing criminal charges at their preliminary hearings in Philadelphia Municipal Court. During the 2024 spring semester, they will try misdemeanor cases. Kitchen says that “it’s a rare experience to have in law school—to be able to represent a client in court in front of a judge.”
Drexel Kline Law has proved a good incubator for Kitchen’s interest in public service. “There are a lot of opportunities at Drexel to pursue hands-on public interest work ... and that’s what I personally needed,” Kitchen says, noting that she chose from among three public-service focused clinics.
Kitchen emphasized that to be successful in the public interest field, “you need to get real-world experience and learn how to effectively communicate with clients. There’s a lot of necessary practical skills that you can’t learn in the classroom.”
Kitchen feels she has grown immensely from these experiences: “All of the pro bono work, internships, my co-op, and my clinic have made me much more well-rounded and confident in (hopefully) becoming an attorney soon.”
Kitchen also appreciates the support she receives from the school’s Public Interest Scholarship program, which financially supports qualified students committed to the public good. “I’m just incredibly grateful for the public interest scholarship,” she says. “The ability to have a scholarship that can support you financially when you’re pursuing this specific line of work is super valuable.”
‘A reason to get excited’
For Kitchen, pro bono work is an investment that pays dividends. “I really enjoy working with clients one-on-one,” says the third-year student, who remembers the faces and stories of many of the clients she's worked with. Kitchen finds these connections rewarding: “It gives me a reason to get excited about whatever work I'm doing.”
While working with individuals facing criminal charges or seeking immigration relief, Kitchen says, you learn a lot about people and their stories. “You see how clients got to whatever situation they’re in,” she says, adding that “working in public interest makes you attentive to the injustices in the legal system and how people who may not be able to afford a private attorney are often left behind.”
“That’s one of the reasons that public interest work is so important,” she says. “There’s no reason why some people shouldn't have access to high-quality legal aid, but hiring an attorney is expensive.”
Kitchen also enjoys working with people from a variety of backgrounds, each with their own story and experiences. “When you’re working in direct client services, there’s something individual about every case and every client.”
Advocacy and agency
While Kitchen wants to be an advocate for those in need of low-cost or free legal aid, she emphasizes that “agency needs to be put back in clients’ hands. These are their cases. These are their lives.” For those reasons, she says, it’s important that clients take the lead in determining their legal goals and needs.
Kitchen stresses that each client “knows what’s best” for themselves. “I can be helpful in the sense that I was able to go to law school ... but at the end of the day, the clients are leading the way. To work in the public interest field, you need to be very aware of that fact—that you're not saving someone. Every client I've worked with is incredibly knowledgeable about the law, their case, and what they think should be done.”
Kitchen is still figuring out her plans for after graduation. She aims to work at an immigration legal aid organization or at a public defender's office in the Philadelphia area. For now, when she’s not in the classroom, doing public interest work, or busy with schoolwork, she loves to spend time outside, run, and go thrift and vintage shopping. She also loves dogs, and until she can get one of her own, enjoys dog-sitting for friends and family: “When I have a dog in my apartment while I’m working, it just cheers me up.”