Externship Profile: City of Charleston Housing Authority

During her time as an undergrad at the University of Florida, Lauren Byrns, 3L, made a point to work with non-profits and families with a low to moderate income. Through her experiences she developed a passion for the work and a curiosity for the legal matters a public or city agency deals with on a daily basis. By working as a summer extern with the Charleston Housing Authority, she is able to confront these issues firsthand and gain real-world experience.

“When I began checking out my site options, I thought it was interesting how many different facets of law the Housing Authority covers. This externship, so far, has taught me a lot about housing law and government regulations. It really has opened my eyes about how many things are regulated and what legal issues can arise even if it seems like a very minute issue,” said Byrns.

The Charleston Housing Authority has over 1,400 public housing properties and provides affordable housing to approximately 4,000 families. Properties are located in downtown Charleston, James Island, Johns Island, Daniel Island, Mount Pleasant, West Ashley and North Charleston.

Byrns begins her day by meeting with her supervising attorney and then either attending meetings or doing research and writing informal memos. She credits her legal research and writing courses for providing her with the skills necessary to be successful at her externship.

Through her work and experience she has learned that each day is different and brings new legal challenges. “My most interesting experience was sitting through a grievance hearing. A hearing officer listens to both sides of the case (from the Housing Authority and the resident) and then makes a decision either to affirm the Housing Authority’s decision or to overturn the decision. I was able to sit through a grievance hearing in which the emotions were really high and it was a very humbling experience,” said Byrns.

Despite the challenges of the work, she sees the value in it and appreciates the tie into Charleston Law’s commitment to public service as well as how it is shaping her legal career.

“Being able to be out in the community and see how to implement programs and policies that better the residents as well as help better the Charleston neighborhoods is very rewarding,” said Byrns. “I like the personal touches that make up the issues that I deal with at the Housing Authority. Ultimately, I came to law school to help others that are unable to or cannot afford to seek legal consultation. This externship has helped me come closer to my goal of using my legal education to help others through a public agency.”

Charleston School of Law’s externship program allows students to gain practical work experience while earning course credit. Students complement their classroom studies by working under the direct supervision of members of the judiciary or attorneys in the public sector. This summer, Charleston School of Law students are at 35 exciting externships sites helping the community. Since fall 2006, Charleston School of Law students have completed approximately 82, 114 externship hours. The externship course is offered during the fall, spring and summer terms. For more information please contact Professor James Klein or Autumn Jones.

Story by: Alexis Economy
Photos by: Graham Ervin