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Law firms welcome teen interns

by Rob Varnon
Connecticut Post

February 14, 2005

Four Bridgeport law firms created a program to give disadvantaged young adults in the community a chance to work as interns for three months, but it hasn't quite worked out the way most expected. The firms don't want to let their interns go.

"My God, you really fall in love with the guy, said Richard Bieder, one of the partners of Koskoff, Koskoff & Bieder, while sitting Thursday across from former intern and now employee RaSheme Baskin. "I'm not really in love with you, Bieder told Baskin, which drew laughs from the small group of participants in a round table discussion of the new program, "Law Firms for a Greater Bridgeport.

The program is just a few months old, and is the brain child of Koskoff, Koskoff & Bieder attorney Neal DeYoung. The other participating firms are Pullman & Comley LLC; Durant, Nichols, Houston, Hodgson & Cortese-Costa P.C.; and Goldstein & Peck P.C.

All of the interns are paid and work part time.

The firms assign them to different duties and some are filing documents in courts, helping in the libraries and doing a lot of the office work that goes on at the firms.

DeYoung said he was driving from his home in Newtown to the firm's Bridgeport office and was inspired to try something like this by a radio program he heard. He wasn't sure how to go about starting a program so he just started surfing the Internet and came across the Youth Business Center sponsored by FSW, formerly known as Family Services Woodfield.

The hope is to turn this from "Law Firms to "Businesses for a Greater Bridgeport, he said, where architects, accountants and other professions open their doors to YBC interns.

Mitchell DePino, YBC's program director, said the organization has been teaching kids in the area how to build boats, guitars and work in the audio video business for four years, but it has always wanted to find an inroad to the professional sector. DePino said that all YBC participants are referred by a social worker or a probation officer, so there is a hurdle to overcome in getting some businesses to open up to these kids.

Baskin, 18, said he entered the YBC program two years ago and at the time he didn't know anything about building boats or working with wood. He said the biggest challenge was overcoming the unknown and that may have helped him transition to the office because now he's not afraid to try new things and ask questions. But Baskin might also be doing a good job because he wants to be a lawyer.

"When I was young, I used to think, 'I'm going to be a lawyer, he said. Baskin said he's going to enroll at Bridgeport's Housatonic Community College next year to get started on his plan. He is also helping to train new interns as they enter into the program. Baskin said he couldn't think of a downside to working at the lawfirm because "every day is a different experience.

JayRon Vines, 17, the YBC intern at Durant Nichols, said Friday that he didn't have any trouble shifting from working on boats to an office environment. "I'm really enjoying the experience, he said. "I was so surprised by the way they welcomed me.

Vines said he expected the firm to be filled with mean lawyers who were too busy to answer questions, but the people are really nice.

But Vines said he doesn't think he's going to become a lawyer, because he wants to be a chef. He's enrolled in a culinary arts program at his school.

Martin Hochstadt, executive director for Pullman & Comley, said his firm's two interns are both in school and, like Bieder and Don Houston - a partner at Durant Nichols - he couldn't be more pleased with the people YBC sent him.

All the representatives of the firms said that this is a way to give back to the city that has given them so much over the years. Ultimately, Hochstadt summed up what's been the best part of the program for him and the others - working with people who are driven to take advantage of an opportunity.

"These young adults want to make something of themselves, he said. "These young people really appreciate the opportunity.

Businesses interested in the Youth Business Center programs can call Mitchell DePino at 368-5529.