My Time as a Legal Intern at the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties

August 29, 2019

By Samantha Sneen, 2018 Fall Legal Intern, ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties


Before law school, I worked for several years in education and saw a number of systemic inequalities and injustices in my community that I felt powerless to address. After doing some soul-searching, I decided to go to law school to work in the public interest sector and better serve these at-risk populations. I had always loved the ACLU’s work and kept up-to-date on all of their cases but was nervous about applying for an internship when I saw their listing. It was during my first year of law school when I attended a conference about the First Amendment and hate speech with ACLU-SDIC’s Legal Director David Loy as the guest speaker. I was impressed with his command of the subject and it was then that I became motivated to take the leap and apply for an internship.


When I arrived on the first day, I was so nervous about working for such an amazing — and frankly, intimidating — organization. However, within the first hour, I was invited to my first staff meeting where I was welcomed by the entire team. I quickly noticed how everyone functioned together like one big family and it was incredible to see such an inspiring group of people all working toward a common goal. Everyone worked with such enthusiasm and drive, it was hard not to get swept up in that energy. Little did I know that this first day would be indicative of my entire experience with the ACLU.

During my internship, I had the opportunity to learn about various areas, including prison reform, immigration, LGBTQ+ rights and education. With the direction and guidance of Senior Staff Attorney Bardis Vakili, I researched legal issues regarding the lawsuit over California SB 1421 and assisted during client intakes for asylum seekers at two detention centers. Equity Staff Attorney Melissa Deleon took me under her wing during an LGBTQ+ discrimination case and entrusted me to investigate both charter school and special education issues. I examined various city ordinances that criminalized the homeless population for Staff Attorney Jonathan Markovitz. And, I had the privilege of working with David Loy, who generously invited me to various court hearings and conference calls to “see how the sausage is made.” I am so thankful for each of these brilliant attorneys for taking the time to mentor me throughout my internship. I’m also grateful to the rest of the legal team for their help, support and friendship.

Any law student interested in public interest work, impact litigation and equity would truly benefit from an internship with the ACLU. The feedback I received strengthened my researching and writing skills, while attending court hearings and moots helped me think more like an attorney. Specifically, I was pushed to think creatively to solve several legal issues — important skills that are applicable anywhere. Also, this opportunity to further equity is enlightening of any law school experience and motivating for a public interest career.