Incredible Lessons from the Women’s Campaign School at Yale

By Aurelia Chaudhury, Lynsey Gaudioso, and Claire Simonich

This past June, 81 passionate, driven, diverse, smart and impressive women sat together in one room, for one week, and learned how to run for political office. Thanks to a generous Yale Law Women scholarship, we were lucky enough to join that amazing group.

Each year, the Women’s Campaign School at Yale brings together women from across the United States and around the world for a weeklong, non-partisan, issue-neutral leadership program. The mission of the program is “to increase the number and influence of women in elected and appointed office in the United States and around the globe.”

Structured like a boot camp, the program teaches participants the ins and outs of running a political campaign. From 8 am to 8 pm each day we sat in a room together and learned from experts. We learned how to find our vote count number—the number of votes needed to win an election. We learned how to structure a fundraising call and developed a draft list of individuals we would likely call on to donate to our current or imagined future campaigns. We developed and presented five-minute speeches before a professional speech coach, practiced methods meant to “magnify our magnificence,” and spoke with an image consultant. We learned about media appearances, polling, ethics, message and paid media, digital campaigns, networking, grassroots organizing, and get out the vote efforts, among tens of other hard and soft skills.

At night, we met in small groups to apply what we had learned. Tasked with developing our own campaign strategies for one of the two women in the New Hampshire Senate race—Kelly Ayotte (R) or Maggie Hassan (D)—we stayed up into the early hours of the morning crunching vote count numbers, developing media videos, putting together slide decks, and drafting invitations to fundraisers. On Friday, each team presented its campaign strategy to a panel of expert judges. The winning campaign strategies for both campaigns were mailed to Kelly Ayotte and Maggie Hassan’s campaign staff in New Hampshire.

The lessons and skills we learned that week were invaluable. But the best part of the week was the people.

Our teachers—almost all women—included elected officials like Representative Stacey Abrams (D), the House Minority Leader for the Georgia General Assembly and a fellow Yale Law School alumna, who shared her own story, gave advice on how to hire and manage staff, talked about how to maintain a healthy work-life balance, and discussed her 10-year plan to turn Georgia blue. It included women like Lisa Spies (R) and Stephanie Berger (D), who started their own political consulting firms focused on fundraising—two of the few women-led firms in the political world. And it included coaches like Deb Sofield (R), Carol Vernon and Joel Silberman (D) who have worked with politicians across the country to improve their stage presence and public speaking skills.

Our classmates also taught us incredible lessons. Throughout the week, each of us laughed, cried, worked with, and learned from the other 80 amazing women in that room. We came from many different states, countries, political orientations, and backgrounds. We ranged in ages, careers and experience in politics. But we shared a commitment to supporting each other through a grueling week and beyond. We worked together late into the night with good humor and resilience. We shared our personal stories during learning sessions. And we promised to support one another beyond the walls of the Women’s Campaign School. At one point, a fellow participant stood up and vowed to donate to every single one of our campaigns. Declarations from other participants (and teachers) followed until every single woman in the room was standing, vowing to support each other in our political ambitions regardless of party differences.

Since the campaign school ended, we’ve used an online platform and continued to support one another. One classmate recently posted about another’s official announcement for office, which led to an outpouring of donations. Another reposted a classmate’s op-ed. Others now serve as classmates’ campaign managers.

Something magical happened in Room 127 of Yale Law School in June. In one week, a group of 80 women came to know and love and support one another. And in doing so, we crossed political lines—lines that will stay crossed for the remainder of our careers.

Our week at the Women’s Campaign School was transformative. We made friendships that will last a lifetime. We developed the skills needed to run a successful campaign. And we forged the confidence to one day run on our own. Years from now we will point back to this week at the Women’s Campaign School as one that changed our lives. Thank you, Yale Law Women, for helping to make it possible.


Aurelia Chaudhury and Claire Simonich are members of the Yale Law School class of 2016. Lynsey Gaudioso is a member of the Yale Law School and Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies Classes of 2017. All three attended the Women’s Campaign School at Yale in June 2016 on full scholarships. Ms. Gaudioso and Ms. Simonich received scholarships from Yale Law Women, funded by generous Yale Law School alumnae.

Ms. Chaudhury is currently clerking on the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals; Ms. Simonich is clerking on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals; and Ms. Gaudioso hopes to pursue a public interest fellowship following graduation.   

Summer in Mexico City with el Centro de los Derechos del Migrante

by Liz Willis ‘17

I spent this summer at El Centro de los Derechos del Migrante in Mexico City. CDM’s goal is to help migrant workers defend and protect their rights, and they work to decrease any barriers to justice that exist as a result of the national border. CDM employees really care about doing excellent work for the workers who contact their offices, and that’s clear in the effort, time, and enthusiasm they put into conversations with workers, regardless of how busy they are.

I worked on intakes, settlement management, outreach, and policy issues. The intakes were with workers from all over Mexico who were in the United States working, or who had already returned, and had questions about their rights related to workers’ compensation, wage and hour claims, and employment discrimination. Settlement management involved talking to workers about their rights related to the settlements, gathering evidence, and following up with workers about issues with their claims. I also wrote comments, as well as worked on other smaller policy projects, all related to new regulations about the H-2B visa program for non-agricultural guest workers.

The most valuable aspect of my experience was the ability to talk to clients constantly in Spanish. I feel much more confident in my ability to conduct intakes, construct affidavits, and explain legal issues to clients on the phone and in person. Because I know that I want to work directly with clients, I really wanted to develop those skills, and I’m so glad that I was able to do that this summer. I also really appreciated the opportunity to learn how to read regulations closely, analyze them, and construct useful comments. I felt that I really understood how to develop arguments for legal cases by analyzing regulations, and I am sure that skill will come in handy.

By working at CDM, I learned that I want to work directly with clients as much as possible, but that I also enjoy research and thinking about changing the legal regime surrounding human, worker, and immigrants’ rights more broadly.  I did quite a bit of policy work, and I was able to go on one four-day outreach trip. I really enjoyed those experiences. CDM is connected with the community and works on creating change through a variety of policy and outreach efforts, in addition to litigation. For instance, check out the website, which aims to improve the availability of information about recruiters and employers for workers attempting to come to the U.S. to work through visa programs like H-2B, H-2A, and J-1.

I was also truly inspired by my supervisor, Jessica Stender, who was the legal director while I was there. She was absolutely committed to doing her best work for all the workers that contacted our office, and it was clear that it came from a genuine interest in their well-being and success in receiving money they are owed, finding representation, or defending themselves against rights violations. She cared immensely about every intake and was dedicated to her work. I hope that I can be a similar kind of lawyer, especially because she developed excellent relationships with clients and was able to inspire confidence and trust. Similarly, Lilian, a lawyer in Mexico and a paralegal for CDM, worked endlessly and successfully with workers, both in the office and on outreach trips.

One of the main reasons that CDM is successful is their contact and relationship with workers, and Jessica and Lilian contributed greatly to those relationships. They reminded me of the importance, especially when working in social movement building or rights education, of forming strong relationships and being a trustworthy and personable advocate. Because I saw them in action, I was able to recognize the value that I can contribute to organizations by connecting with the community, and I will continue to work on that type of skill as I move forward with my career.

An Unforgettable Experience at the Legal Aid Society

by Andrea Levien ‘17

It was an undeniable feeling in my gut that led me to accept a summer internship at the Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center (LAS-ELC) in San Francisco last December. I had never spent more than three days at a time in California, and, as a New York native who had already fallen in love with D.C. before law school, I had no desire to settle in California permanently. But after interviewing with my future supervisors at LAS-ELC over Skype, it was clear that if I received an offer, I would be an idiot to say no.

LAS-ELC serves low-income workers in California through direct legal services, impact litigation, and legislative advocacy. Through its litigation work, it represents plaintiffs who have suffered employment discrimination based on their race, religion, national origin, gender, and sexual orientation. My timing as an intern in the National Origin Program couldn’t have been better. When I arrived at the office in May, my supervisors informed me that the case they had discussed with me during our interview hadn’t settled, and that we would begin trial in June.

Our client in this case had been brought from Mexico to the United States illegally by his parents when he was a child. Twenty-five years later, after gaining his U.S. citizenship in 2011, he had been disqualified from becoming a corrections officer for the state of California for his prior use of an invalid social security number, which his parents had given to him in order to work when he was fifteen and undocumented. LAS-ELC was trying to prove that such a disqualification had a disparate impact on Latinos, since the vast majority of California’s undocumented residents are Latino, and undocumented immigrants are those most likely to use an invalid social security number. The government, overly confident in its defense against our client’s novel claim, had elected not to settle the case, believing that it could rebut our claim of disparate impact (if we could even prove it numerically) by showing that weeding out candidates for their prior use of an invalid social security number was necessary to ensure that only those with “honesty, integrity, and good judgment” would be hired as corrections officers.

After six days of trial (which started at 7:30 am every morning!), my bosses were able to prove that this hiring practice had a disparate impact on Latinos, who turned out to be the only applicants the state had disqualified for invalid social security number use, and that the practice of asking about the use did not assist the state in finding corrections officers with “honesty, integrity, and good judgment.” It certainly helped that our client, a happily married father of three who had returned to school at the age of 30 to earn a degree in correctional sciences, was about as upstanding a citizen as one could imagine. When we received the judge’s order informing us that we had won four weeks later, we were ecstatic.

While watching my bosses prevail in federal court was an unforgettable experience, the highlight of my summer was definitely when I got to play lawyer myself, representing a client during her unemployment insurance appeal hearing before an administrative law judge. The client had already been granted her unemployment insurance by the California agency responsible for the system’s administration. However, her former employer decided to challenge the agency’s decision, since the more former employees an employer has in the system, the higher the premium the employer has to pay.

My client had been a resident manager of a luxury apartment complex in the East Bay. Her duties included responding to any issues that her tenants brought to her attention and maintaining complex’s grounds and facilities. When she had fallen behind on her rent, her employer/landlord had fired and evicted her. Her employer was arguing that her failure to pay her rent amounted to willful misconduct, an offense that makes an employee ineligible for unemployment insurance.

My job as my client’s advocate was to prepare her for the hearing, prepare her exhibits to present to the ALJ, deliver opening and closing statements, and perform direct examination of her and cross-examination of her employer. My client and I met twice to hammer out of the facts of her case and practice her answers to direct and cross-examination. She appeared confident yet deferential. She was going to be great, I told her, and I think she believed me. I, on the other hand, was horrified that I was about to screw up and cause this woman to lose thousands of dollars that would help keep her afloat as she looked for a new job.

When we got to the hearing, it was clear that the ALJ we were assigned would not be a passive observer, as many often are. She asked dozens of questions of my client and her employer, most of which were far afield from the theory of the case I had developed with my client. When it was time for me to perform my direct and cross, I realized that every question I had prepared would be of little interest to the judge. I had to quickly improvise, asking questions to emphasize my client’s dire financial circumstances and the competence she had shown as a resident manager. Luckily, the ALJ caught on, and affirmed the agency’s decision granting my client unemployment insurance. Another victory! Seemingly small, but big to the client, and to me.

My summer in California turned out to be everything I had hoped it would be and more. Did I get unusually luck with the cases I able to work on? Yes, absolutely. But I don’t think it’s a coincidence that by choosing the most unconventional job I had been offered, I was able to experience aspects of lawyering I wouldn’t have even gotten close to at the East Coast organizations I had been considering. My main piece of advice to any 1L choosing a summer job is to pick the most adventurous and substantive experience you can find. The name of the organization doesn’t matter. What you do there does.

A Rewarding Summer at the Bronx Defenders

Michelle Cho, a YLW member in the class of 2016, writes about her summer experience at the Bronx Defenders. She shares her reflections on the tension between feminism and criminal law and the day-to-day aspects of her work. 

“Please write a memo on whether we can procedurally block the DA from making this motion in court. No longer than two pages, but I need it by 9am tomorrow because that’s when I’m conferencing with the judge. Also please look at this file and write an Order to Show Cause for this client, and a Motion to Dismiss for that one. Come with me to meet her at 5pm so you can write her affidavit. We’re going to court beforehand for arraignments and can go together afterward. And there’s a training on Public Assistance in an hour!”

So that didn’t happen all at the same time–but it wouldn’t be exaggerating to say that all of the above might be spread across, say, two days instead of one. Life at a public defenders’ office is dynamic and always busy. The kind of work that I do changes on a daily basis depending on the needs of our clients. The clients are, after all, the heart and soul of our work. Sometimes I go into work knowing that I have to finish something and serve it or mail it before 3pm that day, and sometimes I walk into the office with no idea as to what’s to come–but every day I leave the office feeling fulfilled and excited about the work that I have done.

At the Bronx Defenders, each intern has one, two, or three supervising attorneys. I have only one, but with almost 90 open cases assigned to her alone at any time, there is enough work to go around. I meet with my attorney every morning to go over our schedule that day, and usually follow her to court or to client meetings. There are also any number of trainings happening each week, ranging from interacting with clients with diminished capacities to HIV/AIDS confidentiality and disclosure requirements, or from strategies to get clients’ vehicles back from the NYPD pending their trials to helping clients in Rikers file petitions to challenge their solitary confinement. Both attorneys and interns attend trainings, because everyone is always learning and improving. Because of the high workload typical to PD offices, interns get a significant amount of responsibility, and simultaneously a lot of autonomy over our schedules. It is unbelievably inspiring to work creatively with such a powerfully inspired and passionate group of people who also happen to extremely smart.

Being at a PD office is not just about running around trying to stamp out fires that spring up all the time, though that’s what it can feel like at times. Almost every day, I talk with my supervising attorney about deeper questions that come up in our work, including the role that our office should play in community organizing; how public defenders can meaningfully manage both work and life so that they don’t fall victim to burnout; the complexity of domestic violence issues in many of our clients’ lives; and how attorneys at our office personally deal with zealously defending the occasional client who is accused of committing crimes they cannot stomach, or who may very well be “menaces to society;” among other topics. Demonstrating the commitment of these attorneys to grappling daily with these questions, Bronx Defenders founder Robin Steinberg sat down around a table with all of the interns in the beginning of the summer to have a 2-hour long conversation about feminism and public defense–two ideological and moral commitments that may often conflict.

I have already learned so much from working at the Bronx Defenders, even though summer’s only half over. Simply spending time with the clients, attorneys, and fellow interns who make up my day has made me think more deeply and critically about my goals as a future lawyer and as a person than any moment in law school so far. Any work I do in the future, whether in a PD office or not, will, I think, be far more meaningful for having had this summer working directly for and with clients in the Bronx. I could not have asked for a more wonderful first summer experience.