NEW YORK CITY (April 5, 2022) — Kostelanetz & Fink is always innovating. This year, we took a detour from the traditional law firm summer associate approach, and invited a summer associate applicant, Ruth Schapiro, to join us during her second year of law school, as a Spring 2022 intern.
As the internship came to a close, Ruth shared her thoughts about her time at K&F with her internship mentors (K&F partner Ian Weinstock and K&F associate Yelena Niazyan) and her pre-law paralegal guide (Michael Gelb). We learned as much as she did.
First, a little bit about Ruth. Currently a law student at Columbia Law School, she is expected to receive her J.D. in May 2023. At Columbia, Ruth is a Kent Scholar (awarded for “Outstanding Academic Achievement”) and received the Best in Class Award in “The United States and the International Legal System.” She’s active in the National Security Law Society, Columbia Society of International Law, the Columbia Law Women’s Association, and the Jewish Law Students Association. She’s also Head Articles Editor of the Columbia Journal of Transnational Law, which has been led by two former K&F pre-law paralegal program alums (Emilie Klovning and Tim Wang) in a row.
Prior to law school, Ruth received her M.A. in War Studies from King’s College London and her B.A. from Yale University in Global Affairs. She has previously served as an intern for the U.S. Navy Judge Advocate General’s Corps and as an intern for the Israeli Ministry of Justice.
During her Spring semester with K&F, Ruth also interned for a federal judge in the Southern District of New York, maintained a second-year law student course load, and continued her law school, on-campus activities.
Ian: What about Kostelanetz & Fink first interested you?
Ruth: I was first interested in K&F because of its tax controversy practice. I completed a litigation internship last summer and I really enjoyed it, but I had been told repeatedly that I would enjoy tax because of the detailed nature of the Tax Code. I wanted to see if there was a way to combine litigation and tax. When I asked about where to find tax litigation experience, I was told that the place to do it was K&F. While learning more about tax litigation was what first interested me in K&F, what tipped the balance in my decision was the people. Meeting [partner] Claude Millman [at a Columbia on-campus interview for a summer associate position] and then talking to him and others during the interviews gave me a feel of just how professional and helpful everyone was and how much they cared about the people at the firm.
Yelena: What are the things you liked most about the internship at K&F?
Ruth: One of the key things I liked about the internship was how supported I felt throughout the whole thing. Claude and [K&F Director of Operations] Kelly Robin reached out from the beginning to make me feel welcome.
The K&F mentorship program also really helped. From the very first day, I had people at all levels of the firm who I could go to with my questions on any topic. For me, it can be difficult to reach out, but my mentors made it very clear they were available and were always willing to help.
Having scheduled weekly meetings with both Ian and Yelena was great. Coming in, I had no idea what to expect from partner interactions, so having a partner mentor made me much more comfortable. Ian helped me modulate my workflow and gave me useful advice on how to approach the work itself. It was great to get his perspective on the matters that I was working on; he helped me situate my work within the larger legal landscape.
The meetings with Yelena gave me the opportunity to ask questions about how to do the work, anything I was concerned about, and basics of law firm life. Yelena also facilitated meetings with other people at the firm, so I could learn more about the firm and careers in tax. Additionally, having someone to ask the really basic questions to made it much easier to jump into work. It was also very helpful to have a paralegal guide. Starting in a remote environment was weird and being able to reach out to Michael with the sorts of questions you’d normally just pop into another office to ask made the transition smoother.
I also really appreciated how much of a focus there was on my learning. Everyone made an effort to ensure that I got to try the type of work that I was interested in, answering questions about tax law, and lots of people reached out to see if I wanted to work on the “cool” cases. People also were very respectful of my being a student and the time constraints of that.
Finally, I really liked that I felt like one of the team. I was given real assignments for clients. For example, in the context of a federal tax audit, [partner] Caroline Ciraolo asked me to research the proper treatment of various items identified by the IRS. I also got to take ownership of my work. It was very satisfying to handle a project from beginning to end and know how my work fit in to the larger case.
Michael: How has your internship at K&F informed the next steps you will take in your legal career?
Ruth: The internship has made me a lot more confident in my desire to practice law. People often talk about the big difference between law school and actually being a lawyer, so I was curious about what it would be like to practice law. The internship gave me the opportunity to see what type of work is done at a law firm and to explore different areas of tax law. For example, I was able to help with both civil and criminal matters. I tackled questions related to individual and business tax audits, state charity filings, federal sentencing, and the intersection of immigration and tax.
I took an income tax course last semester, but I got to explore so many new areas of law and see how tax law actually works in practice. One of the aspects of tax law that I was most interested in trying out was delving into the details of the Tax Code because that was what I had been told would make tax of interest to me. These projects provided lots of opportunities to do that and confirmed to me that using the Tax Code and its accompanying regulations, procedures, and rulings was something that I enjoyed. It was gratifying to go from the Tax Code to the Regulations to seeing how they applied in cases and then to Revenue Rulings for specific answers.
The internship has made taking the next steps after law school less scary because it has made them less of an unknown.
Michael: How has your internship at K&F helped you as a law student?
Ruth: One thing that I think K&F has really helped me with is learning to convey information to others who are relying on me to do the authoritative research. At K&F, I’d write a memo or find the answer to a question, and it was critical that I convey the information in a way that is digestible for someone who has not done the research themselves. In law school, you are often talking to people who have researched the same topic or read the same fact patterns, so they can still follow you even if there are gaps. Conveying pertinent information was a skill that I really worked on and think I made improvements on.
Yelena: What are you most proud of during your time at the Firm?
Ruth: I am most proud of the article to which I contributed about how tax convictions can influence immigration outcomes. The issue is important because people don’t necessarily consider immigration consequences when pleading to tax crimes. However, doing so can be life-changing for immigrants, and lawyers need to be aware of the potential consequences for their clients so they can provide effective assistance. I am excited that the research that I did can be used to help people make informed decisions. I am also quite proud of the contribution I made to the article because how the courts classify tax crimes for immigration purposes is a complicated and evolving matter, so understanding that and writing it up in a cogent manner felt like an accomplishment.