Meet Phil Capers – 2023 Archibald Diversity Fellow
University of Virginia Law student Phil Capers applied for a fellowship he saw on his school’s careers website page and heard back quickly. The post for the Archibald Diversity Fellowship at Legal Aid of West Virginia (LAWV), a summer internship designed to give law students from a minority group the opportunity to work at any LAWV office in the state and provides the fellow selected with a stipend for living expenses. This summer marks the fourth year of the fellowship, created by a generous donation from long-time LAWV supporter Ellen Archibald.
“I was looking for housing-related public service internships,” Phil explains about his decision on where to apply for the summer. “I know that West Virginia is one of our poorer states and has several housing issues, and that made it attractive to me. The diversity aspect of this fellowship interested me as well.”
Originally from Stone Mountain, GA, Phil is accustomed to the larger, more fast-paced scene that Atlanta provided; attending college in the D.C. area and law school in Charlottesville, VA, were easy transitions. For this summer, he is a temporary resident of Wheeling, WV, a suggested office because of their extensive housing law case load. It’s a change of pace and scenery for Phil.
“It’s a nice town here. I walk to the grocery store, and they know me now. I walk into the local coffee shop, and they know me. I always chat with people,” he says. “I do have a little bit of culture shock to me. There are not as many people here, and people are older in general. I have helped a lot of grandparents raising grandchildren. I am used to being in non-Black spaces, but there are no Black attorneys in the Wheeling office. I think my presence has been nice for clients. When they come in and see me, another Black person, they become more trusting and relaxed.”
Before law school, Phil was a paralegal at a private law firm for a few years after completing his undergraduate degree, where his work focused on real estate.
“I did pro bono during my time as a paralegal, and public service interested me. I found that work to be the most satisfying part of the job,” he says. “I think I always knew I wanted to go to law school. I find law challenging, and there’s always something new to learn. One of the best parts of this internship is working again. Law school is more abstract, but it’s nice being back to work and seeing how the law actually works versus hypothetical.”
Like all LAWV interns and fellows, Phil is completing a summer law project specific to his internship. By the end of his fellowship in early August, LAWV will have a series of template letters for renters to use for various housing issues; for example, Phil has already crafted a template tenants can send to landlords requesting their security deposit after leaving rental housing.
“I’m also getting experience in other areas. I’ve done child custody, guardianship, and divorce, but housing is my passion. I have learned so much about areas of housing like trailer park law; I did not know there were requirements related to trailer parks. In public housing, there are also a lot of requirements that are often not followed. If you get evicted from public housing, you lose that as an option. You can really turn someone’s life around by helping them not get evicted.”
Overall, Phil says getting some real-life experience in housing law has been everything he wanted and maybe more.
“This has been an eye-opening experience,” he says. “I know I won’t say no to anything career-wise now. You won’t find any kinder or harder working people than the staff in the Wheeling office and at LAWV in general. I would encourage any law students to try out public interest for a summer and see how you like it. It will encourage you to be thankful for what you have.”
All interns are assigned a summer project and LAWV mentor during their internships, and Phil’s mentor on his letter template project was LAWV Wheeling attorney Kira Maunz, who says this regarding Phil’s presence this summer:
“Phil has been such a fantastic addition to the Wheeling office, and I will be devastated to see him go. One of the things that is so special about Phil is that I can take him with me anywhere such as court appearances, settlement conferences, mobile home parks with individuals facing near immediate eviction, and professional lunches with other members of the bar, and he puts everyone at ease. People connect with Phil and trust him. It is such a hard quality to find and one which will make him an effective and compassionate attorney no matter where he chooses to practice. I am writing this after returning from a court appearance today, and the last thing our clients yelled was, ‘BYE PHIL!’ I really hope we get more interns through this fellowship opportunity.”