Interns: Musings of a Chapter 13 Trustee

Hello Everyone. I am currently on the internship subcommittee of the NACTT’S Inclusion and Acceptance  Committee. This subcommittee oversees the Tom Vaughn Memorial Internship Program. The I&A is a great committee for you to consider joining. It has been very enlightening for me. I commend to you the book list at the committee section of the NACTT website.

One of the programs the committee supports is the promotion of internships for Chapter 13 Trustees. This concept was first championed by, among others, the late Tom Vaughn. The subcommittee helps trustees who are interested in using interns in their office either during the summer or school year navigate the internship experience. On the NACTT website you will find a specific handbook that guides you through the entire process. Financial assistance is available. Using the handbook you may be able to develop a program that will allow the intern to work for you for school credit. If you are a trustee who is uncertain there is enough to keep the intern busy, projects are available for you to use to allow the intern to do research and writing in addition to what you have. The NACTT website is a good place to start. 

My experience with interns pre-dates this committee. I do not remember how I got the idea for an intern. Perhaps it was from my bankruptcy judge or local U.S. trustee’s office. With the caseload I had at the time, and much larger staff, I believed having an intern would allow me to have a part time summer staffer who could help fill in for vacationing employees. We (Jim Weidman, my staff attorney and I) also realized we could offer a great benefit to a prospective attorney. We were in live court twice per week and had some appellate exposure. The intern could attend local seminars, which were not only educational but good networking occasions. Our court has a local rule allowing student attorneys. With the intern admitted through this program, there was an opportunity for the intern to actually stand up in a live court and argue a motion. 

Jim and I decided to offer a paid position to second year law students. We have four law schools in upstate New York: Buffalo, Cornell, Syracuse and Albany. We contacted the “placement offices” at each of these schools. Once they realized we were legitimate, we were deluged with resumes! I believe the offer of a paying summer job made the position much more attractive. We also found out that some of the schools were members of a network which allowed our job offering to be circulated to other law schools.

We did some research and developed a questionnaire. We then sorted through the resumes and picked out five to interview. One thing we realized from the interviews was that all were capable of doing the work. We ended up having the office manager interview the finalists so that we had a third opinion. 

In 2001 we hired our first summer intern, Tara, a second year law student from Buffalo Law School. She worked a full week through the summer months. She trailed us to court every time we went; however, I refused to go “old school” and make her carry my briefcase. As a young lawyer I had to do that and I vowed that was one initiation rite I would never make anyone do for me. We felt our way through that first summer, all of us learning from each other. The office manager became good friends with Tara because both had chows (evil dogs who try to bite a Chapter 13 trustee’s leg while football is on TV). Jim and I would meet with her each day, though Jim proved to be much more of a valuable mentor and a daily source to field questions. 

Not only was Tara our first intern but she was also one of our big success stories. In 2009 she was named one of Rochester’s “Up & Coming Attorneys.” She became house counsel for a local health insurance company, and recently moved on to a new company. Jason, our next intern, became a partner for a top local business law firm.

Our 2003 intern, Meagan, had a very interesting experience. It was on her first day of “getting up” in court. I had learned to tip off the presiding judge ahead of time, so he was ready for her with a tough question. I was sitting next to Meagan when the question was asked. She turned to look at me with a shocked look on her face. In my best stage house whisper, I said “Don’t look at me.” She turned back to the bench and figured it out. The next year, after she graduated, the same judge hired her as his law clerk. She now has a private practice in her hometown. 

At least three of our interns work in the offices of mortgagee attorneys. Another intern works for the New York Division of Disability Rights. Others have joined local law firms of varying sizes. Yet another is a permanent law clerk for the New York Appellate Division, Fourth Department. None of them practice debtor bankruptcy. 

Our 2009 intern, Gordon, had a unique experience. The Second Circuit thought it humorous to send an appeal I was arguing in front of them to the New York Court of Appeals to answer a question of state law. So I had the dubious honor of arguing the same case in both the state and federal appellate courts. The oral argument in Albany was set for Wednesday afternoon; Gordon started with us two days before. After he became comfortable at his desk on his first day, I marched in with the appellate files. I informed him that he would be going with me to Albany because interns always follow us to court. As he was reveling in the experience he was about to have, I advised him he would be sitting second chair next to me during oral argument. This meant that if something happened to me and I could not continue, he was to get up, identify himself to the Court judges, and request permission to finish the argument for me. Jason worked very late the next two nights, and I drove to Albany with him on Wednesday. After the argument he asked me if I had been serious, to which I replied, “Yes, though I do not think they would have allowed you to proceed.” He then confessed that he had been feverishly praying for my good health for the past 48 hours. Jason now works for an insurance company defense firm.

Another intern, Michael, ended up doing criminal defense work. He recently co-represented a murder defendant in a highly publicized case and is now running for election as a city court judge.

As my office became smaller, it became harder to keep the intern busy, and to pay the person. Finally I made it a non-paying position, flexible hours, and opened it up to first year students. I still had resumes to choose from.

My last intern was Ryan in 2020. Yes, poor Ryan started as covid hit. So he was not able to go to court, but did get experience dealing with all of the unique issues the pandemic presented to us.

In reviewing this article for me, one former intern commented: “[I] thought the student practice authorization [where the court allowed the intern to argue actual motions in open court] … was a great benefit and it is not very common for summer internships. It was also interesting to see how the Chapter 13 folks have a bit of a “community,”which is not what I would have expected. I fondly look back on my internship!”

You have already seen some articles written by other interns in the Quarterly. For Jim and I internships have been a very rewarding experience. These attorneys are like our professional children. Almost all have gone on to rewarding careers in the law. I have almost a parental sense of pride whenever I happen to encounter them. Internship benefits all who participate. TRY IT!!!

Chapter 13 Standing Trustee for the Western District of New York (Rochester)

George M. Reiber is a native of Rochester, New York.  He graduated from Spencerport High School, graduated with distinction in History from Rutgers University and obtained his Juris Doctor degree from St. John’s University School of Law. He was admitted to practice before the courts of New York and the United States District Court for the Western District of New York in 1978. He is also admitted to practice before the United States Courts of Appeal for the Second and Sixth Circuits and the Supreme Court of the United States. He began practice as an associate attorney in the office of a Chapter 7 liquidation trustee, and then operated a general law practice for several years concentrating in bankruptcy, real estate, wills, matrimonial law, and small businesses.

On December 1, 1979, he was appointed as the first standing Chapter 13 Trustee for the Rochester division of the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of New York, covering a 9 county area to the Pennsylvania border. He is one of the youngest persons ever appointed as a Chapter 13 Trustee in the country. He continues to be the Trustee, distributing over $5 million per year. He also serves as a Chapter 12 Trustee for the reorganization of small farms.

Mr. Reiber is a member of the Monroe County Bar Association, the New York State Bar Association, the National Association of Chapter 13 Trustees, the Association of Chapter 12 Trustees, and the Canisteo Bar Association. He is a past president and current member of the Board of the NACTT Foundation, a founding member of the NACTT Inclusion Committee, and a former member of the NACTT Mortgage Committee. Mr. Reiber lectures both locally and nationwide. He has maintained an office in Henrietta, New York, since 1978. His current staff includes 1 staff attorney and 2 support staff.

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