Their Summer Legal Fellows experience was supposed to be online, so when COVID restrictions were eased, Samantha Fazio ’22 and Ashley Gaglioti ’22 jumped at the chance to head to Touro Law Center on Long Island.
Touro is located in Central Islip, and in addition to its law classrooms and library, it’s located adjacent to state and federal courthouses to form a unique legal compound. Touro also operates a free hotline and clinic for underserved people to access legal assistance.
Fazio and Gaglioti received training from their Touro advisor via Zoom on how to work with clients. They were prepared to do their eight-week program via Zoom and phone, but decided to make four separate road tips from their homes (White Plains and Albany, respectively) out to Long Island to do their summer work in person once Touro allowed visitors to their campus.
Clients would call the hotline and leave a voicemail for help with issues such as rental leases, eviction, welfare or Social Security matters; the students would call them back to help them prepare paperwork or gather information for a potential case.
“We had to help them evaluate their situation and build up a case, then determine if we could help them legally or if we should refer them elsewhere,” said Gaglioti. “It was harder at the beginning using email and Zoom, but once we could meet with people in person it made such a difference.”
Fazio added, “It was worth all the traffic and all the time to get to Touro. It was a much better experience being with people face-to-face.”
She explained that when they met with the clients they would “try to find the bigger picture” in their personal situations to determine the best ways to handle them.
“I liked seeing how all the information was organized and filed, and how all the pieces came together.”
They said the personal stories of the clients were often sad, but they took pride in helping their clients – often elderly – navigate the legal process and solve their problems.
“I was happy that I could try my best to help them and make a small difference in their lives,” said Gaglioti.
Derek Peralta ’22, was also part of the Touro cohort, but his work schedule in Manhattan ruled out trips to Long Island. He reached out to his clients using the original distanced game plan.
“These were real people with real problems,” he said. “I was glad I could help them get things squared away.”
All three students plan to attend law school after graduating from Siena next year.
Leonard Cutler, Ph.D. professor of political science and director of Siena’s pre-law program, said the Touro program allows Siena students the chance “to serve real clients and get results. They had no fellowship funds because this summer was to be remote, so they funded their own travel. They all showed real dedication to their summer experience.”