Law Students Get Public Service Experience Through New York Bar Foundation Catalyst Program
First year law students have a difficult choice about how to spend their summers. Do they get a job to pay for law school, or do they take an internship — often unpaid — and gain valuable experience? The Catalyst Public Interest Fellowship Program, run by the New York Bar Foundation, has the answer – you can do both. Now in its 6th year, the Catalyst program funds summer internships for law students. It allows students to gain practical legal experience in public service.
The fellowship is an answered prayer for Stephanie Kaczowski, a first-year student at Albany Law School. She is originally from Connecticut, but she and her husband moved to Albany for her to attend law school. Without the Catalyst stipend, she was planning to spend the summer bartending to make ends meet. Now, she will be paid to work for the Empire Justice Center in Albany, helping with its civil legal services for crime victims. She says it’s a perfect fit. “I was a women’s studies major and have worked in rape crisis, so this is the kind of work I want to do. This program is helping me fulfill my dreams.”
Kaczowski is just one of 60 students representing all of New York State’s 15 law schools who are benefitting from the program. About 25 student fellows spent the day Wednesday in Albany to kick off the 2022 program. They met Catalyst’s founder, New York Chief Judge Janet DiFiore, and toured the New York State Court of Appeals.
DiFiore spoke to the students and showed them around the Great Hall in the New York State Court of Appeals. She encouraged them to seek out public service. “Working in a DA’s office is an invaluable example of public service. We are charged with keeping our communities safe. Hopefully you will consider public service after law school.”
DiFiore created the program shortly after she became chief judge and funded it with remaining campaign funds raised as Westchester County District Attorney. The program is administered by the New York Bar Foundation and pays each student $5,000 during the summer after the first year of law school. Since its inception, 285 fellows have received $1.3 million to fund public service internships.
The students also heard from a young attorney who was in their shoes as a Catalyst Fellow just a few years ago. Julia Kosineski, a senior assistant public defender in Schenectady County, spent the summer following her first year of law school with the Schenectady District Attorney’s Office and eventually found her calling in criminal defense. “It was a great experience I would’ve never had without Catalyst.”
“The greatest thing is finding what really suits your passion,” she says.