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Internship Raises the Bar for Stony Brook Student

Judge and studentWhen senior political science major Erica Del Valle transferred to Stony Brook two years ago, one of the first things she did was to visit the Career Center. It might be the best decision she has ever made.

While Career Center Assistant Director Urszula Zalewsi was helping Del Valle rewrite her résumé, Erica asked about internship positions to prepare her for an eventual career in law. Zalewski mentioned an alumna who was very involved with the Alumni Association — the Honorable Judge Lizbeth Gonzalez, ’74.

Gonzalez, a New York State Acting Supreme Court Justice in Bronx County, 12th Judicial District, had already opened her chamber that summer to a Stony Brook student who had dreams of becoming a lawyer and the internship was going well.

After emailing the judge, Erica and Judge Gonzalez met at an Alumni Association meeting held at the Wang Center open to students interested in legal and business careers.

“I couldn’t believe it when I found out that we had so much in common,” said Erica. “We’re both from the Bronx, both went to Cardinal Spellman High School and we’re both Puerto Rican,” she said.

Erica credits her intern predecessor, Justine Philbert ’13, for initially showing her around the courts last summer.  Having just completed her second internship with Gonzalez, Erica is determined to make law her career path. “The internship altered my perception,” she said. “I thought I wanted the glitz and the glamour of a private firm but I saw the other side of law — everyday people — and it made me appreciate where I came from and [made me] want to help them.” She said it has even inspired her to become more fluent in Spanish. “My whole family speaks it,” Erica said.

According to Gonzalez, the responsibilities of a judicial intern are very different than those of a law student. “Law students learn how to research and do legal writing,” she said. “Erica learned by doing — bringing papers to the chambers, to our clerk in the courtroom or to clerks’ offices on different floors. She became familiar with New York State law by updating our chambers library. I gave her filing responsibilities but before she filed she read the documents to learn the vocabulary.”

Erica has observed Gonzalez in her Supreme Court setting and also observed criminal, family and housing court proceedings. She’s benefited from listening to daily exchanges between judges and court attorneys. “Lawyers have different styles and it’s helpful to see that there is no one way to make a case,” said Gonzalez.

Erica has made great strides in her latest internship — served during the winter break. “Now she knows the ropes,” said Gonzalez.  “She’s gained an understanding of evidentiary rules and we can actually discuss cases on our motion calendar. Our discussions are more in-depth and will prepare her for taking the LSAT. Ultimately the internship will help Erica tackle her first year of law school when the time arrives.”

Judge Gonzalez is a mentor in the truest sense of the word — from teaching Erica how to interact with people to providing healthy eating tips. “She even had me read the New York Law Journal every morning,” said Erica.

Gonzalez is convinced that Erica has the prerequisites needed for a law career. “Discipline, hard work, an inquiring mind and the ability to step back from the emotion of a situation and carefully assess its nuances are all valuable traits that she possesses,” said the judge.

With two excellent Stony Brook student intern experiences to draw from, Gonzalez is eager to make it a habit. “I find that Stony Brook interns are very well-grounded, knowledgeable and have the ability to analyze. They ask smart questions and thrive in new situations.”

Giving back to and being part of the University community is important to both women. As treasurer of the Stony Brook Pre-Law Fraternity, Erica made and distributed holiday cards for Project Sunshine and next year, as part of the Golden Key Club, she will be involved in creating bilingual books for children. She also visits animal shelters and participates in the Relay for Life.

Every October, Gonzalez trades her judicial black for Stony Brook red. “I love to go to Wolfstock to cheer and scream,” she said enthusiastically.

Erica is just as enthusiastic about Gonzalez. “Every time she puts on her robes I think, “That’s my judge!”

—By Glenn Jochum; home page photo by Anusha Mookherjee




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