This summer, I am fortunate enough to be interning with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Illinois, located in downtown Chicago. This organization fights for justice surrounding human rights and constitutional issues; free speech, children’s rights, reproductive rights, racial justice, religious liberty, LGBT rights, criminal justice reform, immigration, women’s rights, rights of persons with HIV/AIDS, and death penalty abolition are a few examples of the many areas that the organization concentrates its energy upon through education, advocacy, legal aid, and legislative initiatives.
It is my goal this summer to learn more about the intricacies of a human-rights oriented non-profit organization, to become more educated about the many areas on which this organization focuses, to learn more about policy within an organization and how this is applied to their outward focuses, to learn more about legal processes and approaches, to obtain experience in a legal atmosphere to aid in my decisions about law school and what types of practices I might be interested in pursuing in my career, to strengthen my professional, administrative, and communication skills, and to forge new connections of both personal and professional natures.
I began my internship this week by learning the processes of handling many of the administration aspects of this non-profit organization. For the entire office of the ACLU of Illinois affiliate, there are two staff members that handle administration; therefore, each administrative staff member has an enormous amount of responsibility and endless tasks of importance. In this vein, I learned a great deal in a very short span of time, and was immediately utilized in the completion of tasks.
For general administration, I learned how to send mail, file and organize law library materials, receive shipments, copy, scan, and shred for the legal and administration departments, bank and donation protocol, and general office support. The completion of these tasks efficiently and correctly is imperative; however, there were further tasks that I learned that more completely indicated the importance of the administrative frontline of such an important organization.
Intake is an incredibly important aspect of the ACLU’s work. It is how people contact the organization for help, and how the organization receives potential cases. The majority of all forms of intake come straight through the front desk. We receive handwritten and typed requests in the mail, we receive requests through email, we accept legal request forms from the ACLU website, we receive calls to the ACLU office requesting aid, and we occasionally (and mistakenly) receive in-person visits to the office with requests for help. All of these forms of intake requests are received directly at the front desk by the administrative staff, and now are received by me.
The correct processing of these requests, forwarding of these requests to the intake department and out-of-state affiliates, sending of responses and referrals to the requesters, and the gracious and empathetic yet firm dealing with intake requests via phone and in person are imperative in order to provide the most help to individuals, and to provide the organization with the information needed to deliberate on what cases to take. In addition to intake, the front desk also fields all emails and phone calls to the Illinois affiliate office. This includes interactions with reporters, journalists, affiliates, and clients, as well as protecting the staff members in the office from inappropriate direct-communication attempts. In addition, all email communication with the ACLU of Illinois is received and processed at the front desk, relying on the astute judgment of the administrative staff to process, forward, and respond accordingly.
While I have only experienced a week of work at the ACLU, I am already incredibly impressed by the scope of the work done by all, and the overall importance of the organization’s work on the micro and macro levels. I have learned, through the many tasks that have been taught and entrusted to me, the importance of the administrative department, and have experienced first-hand existing and working on the frontlines of the Illinois branch – often the first contact between individuals in need, and the nationwide organization that may help them.
-Tess Doubet King