Broncos Lead interns learn life skills in the legal field

Contact: Deanne Puca
Stephanie Smietana and Alecia Freeman

Left to right, Stephanie Smietana, a criminal justice studies student, and Alecia Freeman, a healthcare services and sciences student, were legal interns this summer with Hamilton Law PLC in Kalamazoo through the Broncos Lead Internship Program.

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—When the Michigan Court of Appeals was in session this summer, following Philip Hamilton’s legal team in preparing witnesses and vetting evidence were two Western Michigan University students—getting a front-row seat to justice.

As part of the Broncos Lead Internship Program, Alecia Freeman and Stephanie Smietana say this was one of the most memorable experiences of their 12-week internship at Hamilton Law PLC in Kalamazoo. Through this experience and many others, the seniors built their skills from organization to empathy.

“They’ve had a chance to develop any skill set,” says Raven Britt, the firm’s director of operations and marketing and internship supervisor, from assisting with marketing, reviewing legal documents, helping with client relationships and services and even going to court.

Although the overall summer experience, which included meeting with clients and learning how attorneys foster relationships with them, left the interns with different outcomes and goals, they both say they had opportunities to hone their future career interests.

Stephanie Smietana expanded her interests in speciality law through her internship at Hamilton Law PLC.

Smietana, a criminal justice studies major from New Lenox, Illinois, has had her sights on a career as a lawyer, and her time at Hamilton Law strengthened that resolve. Along the way, though, her interest in criminal law expanded to include specialties covered by Hamilton Law, including estate planning, business law and real estate law.

Her incredible work as an intern launched her into employee status at the firm this fall as she works toward graduating from Western in spring 2024.

“I plan to eventually go to law school, and this internship expanded my interests and options as to where I might want to go. I talked with the attorneys in the office on a day-to-day basis, hearing about their experiences. It was amazing and eye-opening, and it was something I will be able to take with me on my own journey,” says Smietana.

Freeman, of Kalamazoo, is studying healthcare services and sciences at Western and previously worked at the firm the past two years, first as an office assistant then as a paralegal. She was approached by Britt to apply for the Broncos Lead Internship Program to expand her experience-driven learning.

Following her summer internship, Alecia Freeman is continuing on at Hamilton Law PLC this fall as a paralegal and legal assistant.

“I wanted to learn about the administration and human resources roles at the firm and see if that’s something I want to do,” Freeman explains, adding she is continuing in the fall as a paralegal and legal assistant at the firm. Her work this summer included helping create the employee policies manual and providing input. “Here, we were involved in a little bit of everything, so I’ve had room to grow and in any area that I’m interested in.”

Broncos Lead is the first opportunity for Hamilton Law PLC in Kalamazoo, one of only a few Black-owned firms in Michigan, to offer a paid summer internship.

“As a small business, this was not an option (without Broncos Lead),” says Britt. “We are very grateful to have this opportunity from Western to be able to compensate the interns.”

Freeman and Smietana praised the Broncos Lead program’s biweekly professional development meetings on campus in Sangren Hall as a way to check in with other students, hear from speakers on relevant topics and connect to other resources.

“I feel with this program and this university, they are focused on your success as a person and not having an internship just be an experience,” Smietana says.