Summer 2011 Blog Posts

Alexander O'Dell, Public Defender

posted 20 October 2011
Alexander O'Dell

Office of the Public Defender

Interning at the Public Defender’s Office this summer gave me a greater variety of legal experience than I thought possible before I began. On my second day in the office I went with my supervisor to watch her petition the Virginia Supreme Court for an Appeal. While I would not get to do anything quite so weighty myself, my summer experience notably included the opportunity to write a brief in an appeal to the Virginia Court of Appeals that was argued recently.

I got a varied and in-depth experience doing research and writing, beyond writing the brief. I researched and prepared internal office memoranda on several different issues. I researched procedure and the relevant ethics issues involved when the Court was reluctant to pay for in-person translation services for a defendant that spoke an uncommon language. I was also able to delve into trial evidence issues, preparing a memorandum on whether the Commonwealth Attorney could introduce as evidence the verbal testimony of people who had viewed a security video tape after an alleged burglary, without introducing the video tape in question.

My time was not spent just doing research and writing this summer. I got a wealth of practical education as well. I was able to be in court nearly every day of the week. Not only did this help me learn trial procedure and tactics, but it also helped me learn the importance of other factors like client control and working with opposing counsel. 

I got to carry out a good deal of client correspondence (subject to the supervision of my boss), explaining charges to clients. This also taught a variety of softer skills in the process, like how to deal with clients’ emotions, their relatives, and keeping them informed about the trial process. I was also able to interview clients for the purposes of bond hearings and conduct discovery. Almost all of the practical tips and information about the life of a practicing attorney would have been impossible to attain in law school.

My experience left me more committed to public service than ever, and with unique experience that could not have been possible without PSF.

Rebecca Van Derlaske, Norfolk Pub Defender
posted 17 October 2011

Rebecca Van Derlaske

Norfolk Public Defender's Office

This past summer I had the occasion to work with the Norfolk Public Defender’s office. As someone who had came to law school with no professional legal experience the experiences I had this summer were invaluable.

As one of five interns in the office there was always something to do and someone to bounce ideas off of. In the mornings, myself and the other interns would shadow attorneys in court. If a public defender was not arguing that morning, or had already finished their docket for the day, we could observe other cases as well. Just being able to sit in the courtroom and absorb the process really helped to internalize what I had learned in my classes during my first year of law school. We observed many types of cases, from petty larceny, to a rape, to murder. And as a special treat, we were able to observe several jury trials over the summer and witness the jury selection process.

In the afternoons, we focused on legal research and writing. The Norfolk Public Defender’s office is divided into several departments, including a juvenile and domestic relations division, a misdemeanor division and a violent crimes/felony division. Over the summer, each of the interns had the opportunity to work on legal issues for each department. One of the most rewarding aspects of my summer was being able to see your work applied in court. Although not all the cases we worked on went to trial while we were in the office, it felt empowering to have an attorney read your memo, take your opinion of the law into account and witness it affect their strategy for court.

Lastly, this summer afforded me the opportunity to gain hands-on experience dealing with clients. Each week one of the attorneys would have a different intern shadow them to the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court when their docket was especially full. We helped coordinate the attorney with their clients and witnesses, and observe those interviews. Being able to hear the clients talk about the events that transpired, reminded me that each and every case we read about in law school involve real people, and the decisions made in court effect the rest of their lives. I greatly enjoyed my summer and appreciated the opportunity to apply and strengthen the skills I learned in my first year of law school.

Isabella Demougeot Montgomery Co. SA

posted 17 October 2011

This summer I worked as a law clerk at the State’s Attorney’s Office for Montgomery County, Maryland, in their Citizen’s Complaint Bureau. Maryland is one of the few states, if not the only state, that allows citizens to raise criminal complaints without necessarily going through the police or other traditional channels. For a little over twelve weeks, I did everything from interview victim’s, prepare their cases, make recommendations to the Assistant State’s Attorney, work in the courtroom, on the prosecution side of course, to field trips to places like the county jail.

In terms of my work schedule, one day a week, I was specifically assigned the task of interviewing all of the victims that came in. I had one specific day where I was assigned to go to court with the Assistant State’s Attorneys, which was always most exciting and informative. I was also allowed to go observe court proceedings whenever one of my cases was on the docket or if the office was handing an interesting case. It was also interesting to see different attorney’s approaches and to figure out which strategies worked and which strategies left a lot to be desired.

In addition to working hard in the office, there were fun events planned for the interns in the office. The State’s Attorney would come down and talk to us about interesting cases that he had tried and what impressions they had left upon him. We also were able to visit the county jail, which for anyone who knows me was an interesting and eye-opening experience. I was a little hesitant at first to go on this field trip because I just kept having flashbacks to movies ad television shows, where something went wrong in the jail or prison leading to people being held hostage. Luckily, nothing of the sort happened during our visit.

My public service job has really changed the way I view the criminal justice system and how I hope to use my degree after graduation. I found myself truly inspired by the work of State’s Attorney’s Office. The day that I went into the office for my interview, everyone that I spoke to stressed the fact that I would never be bored and that I would end my summer with amazing stories. They were most certainly not wrong. I learned a lot about myself as well as the legal system. I also learned how difficult it is to be a State’s Attorney and how it is a complicated juggling act to attempt to achieve the right ends for all of the involved parties. When I applied for the job I was certain that the position would make for an interesting summer, but it was by far one of the greatest summers I have had. Additionally, I made some great new friends. I highly suggest to any of you reading this blog to seriously consider a public service summer job.

Pamela Palmer, Public Defender
posted 23 August 2011

Pamela Palmer

Office of the Public Defender in Newport News

The greasy fingers don't always point to the culprit.  The judge gave an analogy: possession of marijuana is like possession of a bag of potato chips.  Who has dominion and control?  The judges imparted many life lessons during trial that I will never forget.  This summer I gained a wide variety of perspectives on the law from judges, clerks, attorneys, paralegals, and clients.  I became very familiar with the criminal justice system.  Every day was new.

I researched case law, prepared a memo, completed some office tasks, but 80% of my work involved hands-on experience with clients.  I conducted client interviews in office and during jail visits on my own.  I spoke frequently with family members of incarcerated clients.  Every week I conducted open file discovery in the Commonwealth Attorney's Office totaling to more than one hundred cases for the summer.  Sometimes my attorney would have up to 10 cases in one day:  bond hearings, revocations, and bench trials.  Observing court hearings was both an informative and rewarding process. 

The best part about my internship was the opportunity I had to serve others.  Many clients had preconceived notions about the quality of representation by a public defender.  Some thought their attorney did not care enough to remember their name.  Some felt that public defenders are not as concerned about their case as a private attorney would be.  These notions are far from the truth.  After working as an intern, I can honestly say each public defender is highly qualified and highly concerned with achieving the best result for their clients.  I learned the importance of knowing the client's case and doing my research so that clients felt secure with their representation in whatever criminal matter alleged.  This experience was rare and relevant.

Andrea Booden, Hampton Public Defender
posted 20 August 2011

Andrea Booden

Hampton Public Defender's Office

Like most of the rising 2L students, my summer has included many firsts: the first time I had to explain to a jailed client that I wasn’t his attorney, I just worked for his attorney; the first time I saw a court session started with a large bell being rung; and the first time a client accused me of trying to wire him (mental health evaluation request? check). Working in Hampton’s Public Defender Office since the beginning of July has been exciting – all those interviews of clients in jail – and has shown me how much routine work is required to be a good defense attorney. (If you want copies of most of the evidence against your client, you have to sit in the Commonwealth’s Attorney Office and hand write or type a copy of the documents.)

I’ve gotten a head start on learning about search and seizure law, about when an investigative detention becomes a custodial arrest and that being a good attorney does not mean you always prove the truth. Often it is about being able to make the best of a bad situation for your client. Sometimes that means suggesting they consider a plea agreement when the evidence is against them and sometimes that means realizing your client is likely to be your client again someday soon and not expecting them to change. It’s been a great opportunity to really understand what daily law practice will be like.

Karen Gillespie, Cook Co. SA
posted 18 August 2011

Karen Gillespie

Cook County State's Attorney's Office, Chicago, IL

This summer I worked as a law clerk at the Cook County State's Attorney's Office in Chicago, Illinois. Specifically, I was in the Felony Trial Division. For 12 weeks I worked in a courtroom that saw a wide range of felony prosecutions: drug cases, theft, unlawful use of weapons, aggravated battery, aggravated DUI, attempt murder, murder, sexual assault, etc. Our courtroom also had a specific set of cases called the Women's Justice Mental Health Call which provided women who had multiple prostitution or drug arrests a specialized treatment program. After seeing these women for three months I was inspired by the amazing progress that they achieved. Cook County has several specialized calls to help treat defendants and hopefully curb recidivism. 

In terms of my daily routine, I helped with many administrative tasks such as opening files when we received arraignments, ordering discovery, tendering discovery to defense attorneys, writing and researching motions, and maintaining our courtroom calendar. As a rising 3L, I was also able to obtain my 711 License (much like the Virginia Third Year Practice License). Over the summer I was able to litigate motion arguments, 402 conferences, and bench trials. I also took guilty pleas and assisted with jury trials. The Cook County Office also offers lectures for clerks on Friday afternoons on topics such as domestic violence, cold cases, closing statements, juvenile law, and narcotics. I was able to attend several of these lectures and they were all very informative. 

My public service job has really changed the way I want to use my law degree. I have found myself truly inspired by the work of criminal prosecutors and I absolutely want to join their ranks. When I applied for the job I thought that it would be interesting but it has been truly amazing. Not only did I get to apply so much of what I learned in law school, but I also learned a lot. Perhaps the best part of working at Cook County was the huge amount of responsibility they gave me. I was able to put on bench trials on my own (with supervision, of course) and it is an incredible feeling and a heavy responsibility to have someone's freedom in your hands. Overall, my experience with a public service job was very rewarding and has inspired my career path. I highly suggest thinking about a public service summer job

Rachel Roberts, USAO, Charlotte, N.C.
posted 17 August 2011

Rachel Roberts

United States Attorney's Office, Charlotte, North Carolina

This summer I interned at the U.S. Attorney’s office in Charlotte, North Carolina, which is the primary office for the western district of North Carolina.  Their cases range from all the typical drug and gun cases to gang cases to sophisticated white collar cases to misdemeanors in the Great Smokies National Park or on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  I’ve gotten to do a wide array of research, handle a couple matters in magistrate court, draft an appeal and various motions, and observe many other aspects of the AUSAs’ jobs from coordinating investigations to trial prep to trial. 

While one of the highlights was definitely the variety of work that I got to do, my favorite assignments were the initial appearances/detention hearings that I got to handle in magistrate court.  There’s no replacement for actually getting up and speaking in front of a judge, even if it is just magistrate court and the hearings are old hat for the attorneys in the office.  All of the interns in our office also got treated to a day handling matters in CVB court, which is essentially federal misdemeanor court, and the trip to Bryson City was quite…an experience.  I handled a plea for a guy who had acted as a look-out for another guy who was stealing money from fee tubes in the national park.  Other than that, I had a bunch of no-shows – alas, some other time.   Finally – and maybe even better than getting to handle matters before a judge – was coming away with the impression that everyone at the office loved his or her job.  Regardless of how much they were making and any of the associated stress, everyone was so happy to be working there.  It made a career in public service that much more attractive!

Susan Motley, VB Comm Atty
posted 15 August 2011

Susan Motley

Virginia Beach City Attorney's Office

With the help of a PSF summer stipend I was able to spend the summer before my 3L year working at the Virginia Beach City Attorney's Office.  As I quickly learned upon starting work, there isn't a "typical" day in the office, because new projects and different meetings are always coming up, and that was one thing that I loved about my job.  I was able to stay busy and stay interested in the work that I was given, and the nature of the projects I completed dealt with a wide range of issues.  One project dealt with conservation measures throughout the city while another involved the local school board and their services to Virginia Beach citizens.  I was able to participate in City Council meetings during the summer as the City Attorney's office works directly with the public on issues around the city.  

The public service aspect of my job was always apparent because whenever any action was taken by a city office an investigation had to be completed regarding any citizens' concerns and any possible consequences of the planned action.  The City Attorney's office has an attorney on call each day that is available to respond to citizens' concerns and to look into legal issues and questions brought up by the public.  After spending my last summer of law school working in public service I think that I'm heading back to law school with a renewed sense of the role of local governments and their ability to work for the public good.  In many unseen ways, local government offices work hard to protect and provide for their citizens, and that is something I enjoyed being a part of this past summer.

Lily Saffer, Virginia Legal Aid Society
posted 10 August 2011

Lily Saffer

Virginia Legal Aid Society, Farmville office

As a city girl, I wasn't sure what to think of taking a job with Virginia Legal Aid Society in Farmville, Virginia.  In fact, most people I talked to thought Farmville was nothing more than a facebook game.  I joked about it too, and wondered just how much interesting work I would do in a town like Farmville.  When I thought of public interest work in the United States, I imagined urban neighborhoods like the one where I grew up: clients dealing with drug problems, gang problems, abuse problems.  When I thought of rural areas, I saw only peaceful cornfields.

But Farmville turned out to be a much different experience from what I had imagined.  The VLAS Farmville office has a staff of only two attorneys and one paralegal to cover outreach for eight rural counties; the office is constantly turning people away due to its limited resources.  While the population is certainly less dense than the urban environments I'm used to, they still dealt with many of the same issues: poverty, violence, domestic conflict, swindling consumers, and cheating landlords.  Many of these people only had Legal Aid to turn to; and the majority of these were turned away, told to call back the next month, and the next month, and the next month, when the office re-opened its case loads. 

Because I was there for the summer, and because I have a special interest in family law, the Farmville office opened up their divorce case loads for me.  The attorneys actually conducted the interviews and depositions, and reviewed everything before I sent it in to the court, but I was responsible for drafting the many pleadings.  VLAS only handles no-fault divorces, in which the parties have been separated for over a year and issues such as support and custody have been established.  This was, as our managing attorney put it, the best kind of case: the outcome is essentially guaranteed, and the client always ends up happy.  

During my time with VLAS, I worked on probably thirty or so divorces.  There were some clients who had been separated from their spouses for decades, and others who had called Legal Aid the day the minimum year of separation had passed.  We had clients whose spouses had abused them, and a few whose spouses had tried to kill them.  Several spouses were in jail or other long-term facilities.  But each and every one of these people was thrilled to be able to move away from painful pasts and get on with their lives.  A woman younger than myself, with two little boys, spoke excitedly about starting college classes once her divorce was final.  An older man wanted to ensure that his estate went to his children, rather than to his estranged ex.  Two clients were actually getting their divorces completed in order to get remarried, to each other.  There was nothing more satisfying than hearing a client's joy when we called to tell them, "Congratulations!  You're divorced!" 

Farmville was not precisely what I expected; and it certainly wasn't anything like facebook.  But I feel like I've made a real impact this summer, and made a lot of people happy.  My job with VLAS has reaffirmed my commitment to public service; even in quaint little towns like Farmville, there are so many people in need.  As citizen lawyers, it is our obligation to use the privilege of our legal education to, at least in some small way, help those people, wherever they are.  And I am extremely grateful to the Public Service Fund for making my work with VLAS possible.

Sean Renaghan, USAO E.D. NY
posted 28 July 2011

Sean Renaghan

United States Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of New York, Criminal Division

I am spending the summer following my 1L year as a legal intern with the Criminal Division of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York in Central Islip, NY.  The United States Attorney’s Office is responsible for the prosecution of violations of federal criminal law within the district, and as such is a great place to get an introduction to criminal law and federal courts.

The office that I am working in is a satellite office within the Eastern District, and mostly concerns itself with violations connected to Nassau and Suffolk counties of Long Island, NY.  The office has approximately twenty interns this summer between the criminal and smaller civil division, which works out to about one intern to every one or two attorneys.  As such, the amount of work that there is for the interns can vary greatly depending on the attorney(s) each intern is assigned to and that attorney’s court schedule.  Most interns spend their time conducting legal research, preparing memoranda, reviewing and preparing evidence for trial, sitting in on witness interviews, and sitting in on court cases.  This summer I have been fortunate enough to prepare a response to the sentencing memorandum for a defendant convicted in a drug conspiracy, research a multitude of legal issues related to ongoing investigations into gangs and other potential federal defendants, and observe a number of federal court cases and motions before federal judges.  Additionally, there have been a number of lunches put on by one of the federal judges in the building that have provided an opportunity for the interns to get a further glimpse into the workings of the federal court system. 

Overall, interning at the United States Attorney’s Office has been a great way to get acquainted with both the federal court system and criminal prosecution.  I would recommend this internship, or one with any other United States Attorney’s office, to anyone who is interested in a potential career in criminal law.

Eddie Eichler, Immigration Review
posted 25 July 2011

Eddie Eichler

Headquarters Immigration Court, Department of Justice Executive Office for Immigration Review

This summer I worked as an intern in the Headquarters Immigration Court in the Department of Justice's Executive Office for Immigration Review, in Falls Church, VA. The headquarters court carries out removal proceedings via video conference, supplementing the many immigration courts around the country that are often overwhelmed with such cases.

My job as one of the three interns was to write bench memos and draft decisions. The internship was invaluable, in part because of the opportunity it gave me to improve my writing skills, but more so because of the important role the interns were given in the office.  Our work truly had an impact--which is not something every intern can say. 

Most of my time at the court consisted of researching legal issues, listening to mp3 recordings of hearings, carefully going through the documentary record to check all the details, and drafting decisions, using prior decisions as guides.  The judges in our office were always very approachable when any big issues or differences of opinion arose. 

Over the course of the summer I was able to write on a variety of issues--to provide an idea, here are three examples: whether an applicant was eligible to avoid removal under the Convention Against Torture, whether "bad faith" asylum applicants (i.e. applicants who have intentionally created the situation giving rise to their asylum claim solely so they can apply for asylum) should be eligible for asylum, and whether an issue was governed by a decision of the Circuit Court of Appeals or instead by a conflicting decision rendered by the Board of Immigration Appeals. 

Exploring such complicated questions was challenging, but it was also rewarding. I know I improved my writing skills and my analytical abilities, and being able to play such an crucial role in ensuring that removal proceedings came to the correct outcomes was an experience I will always remember.

Megan Mitchell, NY State Assembly
posted 21 July 2011

Megan Mitchell

New York State Assembly

A few weeks ago, at the New York State Capitol, throngs of New Yorkers wearing red t-shirts filled the halls, exclaiming “Rent Control Now!”  A parade of taxi cabs encircled the Capitol building, giving the Albany police plenty of opportunities to dole out parking tickets.  A group of same-sex marriage opponents blared bagpipes outside the Capitol, while the stylish hockey player Sean Avery made the rounds through the state Senate, advocating the passage of equal marriage.

It was just an average day at the New York State Capitol during one of the craziest, busiest sessions in recent years.

Despite the circus-like atmosphere surrounding the halls of the Capitol, my work here in Albany has been a bit more mundane.  Each day, I have read bills, current law, case law, and have analyzed how they all might fit together if the bills are enacted.  I have encountered scores of bills – ranging from one that allows famous daredevil Nik Wallenda to traverse the Niagara Gorge via tightrope to a bill that would allow prosecutors greater access to DNA evidence.  I examined the power of prosecutors to access DNA records and the ability of developers to continue altering land when towns enact changes in zoning regulations.

Looking at laws, statutes, and cases might seem the most relevant to my legal education, but witnessing the interests, political bargaining, and advocacy behind each piece of legislation has been an education in itself.  I’m getting a chance to see the living, breathing legislative history behind New York’s newest laws.

Stevie Fitzgerald, Newport News CA
posted 19 July 2011

Stevie Fitzgerald

Office of the City Attorney of Newport News

My summer working at the City Attorney Office of Newport News was my first encounter working full time in the legal field. Having no previous experience in the legal profession, I was eager to learn everything that I could. The City Attorney’s Office turned out to be the perfect place for this, as they deal with a huge spectrum of legal issues every day.

The City Attorney’s Office handles all of the City of Newport News’s legal issues. So, in addition to the usual tasks handled by municipal government offices, there were a number of unexpected and unusual legal issues that arose during my time there. I became very familiar with federal, state and local legislature in my work amending the City Ordinance and writing memoranda concerning changes to many different areas of legislation. I also very much enjoyed accompanying one of the City Attorneys to the City’s juvenile docket once a week. Witnessing the functioning of the foster care system was a very enlightening and often a fulfilling experience. Observing the trial process for a variety of civil and legal issues was as valuable a learning experience as it was rewarding.

Working in public service not only provided me with an extensive legal experience, but it also opened my eyes to the real life value of a legal education. After working in the legal public service sector this summer I feel revitalized and ready to pursue my legal degree with renewed vigor in the fall. I now that I know what type of positive impact that I can make with a legal degree. 

Alyson Drake, Monroe County
posted 18 July 2011

Alyson Drake

Monroe County Conflict Defender's Office

Working as the Appeals Intern at the Monroe County Conflict Defender's Office has been a fantastic summer experience.  I've gotten the opportunity basically to act as one of the appellate attorneys, but under the supervision of one of the appellate Conflict Defenders. Most days are spent reading the trial records, researching issues, and writing the briefs for felonies being appealed in the Fourth Department in New York.  The Conflict Defender's Office gives me the chance to practice all aspects of appellate work, knowing that the appellate attorneys will review them.  This allows me to practice the law without the fear that I'm making an irreversible mistake, which I feel is especially important for these clients, since in many cases, these appeals are their last chance to have their cases reviewed for errors.  In addition, by giving me my own caseload, I'm able to practice case management, client correspondence, and time management.  While the briefs I've written, or for which I've written a few issues, won't be argued until well after the summer's end, a few are going to be before the Court during school breaks, and I look forward to returning to Rochester to hear them argued.

My favorite part of the job is actually reading the trial transcripts and accompanying records.  I think of it as a puzzle to be solved; in every case, there are arguable issues.  The likelihood of a trial being flawless is minuscule and the defendant deserves the chance to know if any of those errors are not harmless.  I like that the work of appellate lawyers for the defendant benefits not only the client, but also the community -- by helping to ensure that the legal system is working the way it's designed, or at least as close to that as possible.

Kelci Block, Virginia Outdoors
posted 15 July 2011

Kelci Block

Virginia Outdoors Foundation

This summer I worked for a little-known state agency called the Virginia Outdoors Foundation (VOF) working in the up and coming area of conservation easements.  They work to protect open space and farmland in Virginia by putting private land under easement at the request of the owner, thus limiting what uses the land can be put to in the future.  My main job was to help the lawyer look over the easements when they came back from the landowner's lawyer and make sure the language was acceptable. 

Conservation easements are a relatively new device for environmentalists and it was fascinating to be involved in such a cutting edge area of the law.  I was surprised by how many people were interested in putting their land under an easement that would last forever.  Many of the letters sent to VOF are moving and eloquent as landowners express how much it means to them to have their family farms protected from development.  In doing even a small part to help that goal, I felt as if I was making a difference in their lives as well as benefitting the environment.  The work bolstered my desire to work in public service, fighting for the environment specifically and I am extremely grateful to PSF for the stipend that made this possible. 

Brendan Clegg, SEC
posted 14 July 2011

Brendan Clegg

U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Enforcement Division

This summer, while working in the SEC’s Enforcement Division, I got to see first-hand how a Supreme Court decision altered the decision-making process for a team actively preparing for litigation. After a recent ruling by the Court, an administrative judge asked both the defense and the SEC to rewrite their briefs on the defense’s motion to dismiss counts for securities law violations; he wanted to hear how the recent decision would affect the two sides’ interpretations of the SEC’s claims that the defendants were liable under the relevant securities statutes. Because the decision came down this summer, the attorney with whom I worked stressed the importance of “getting it right” – this case would likely be one of the first cases under the new rule, and the SEC could not afford to set a bad precedent that would hamstring them in future cases.

In the attorney’s office, I went through a binder of evidence the Enforcement Division had prepared to be used at trial. Together, we examined certain documents to determine whether under the new rule, they would still fit – or whether the Court’s new definition of key terms in the securities statutes would render certain pieces of evidence useless. For the first time, I was able to see the connection between Supreme Court decisions and real pieces of evidence to be used at a trial. It was quite interesting to work on a case in which a few sentences of a Supreme Court holding permanently altered the course of the case and required seasoned attorneys to change their litigation strategy on the fly.

The experience of participating in the process of making judgment calls on whether these pieces of evidence could pass muster under new Supreme Court doctrine was also fascinating. Working to reorganize the government’s case against these two defendants was definitely the most interesting work I did during the course of my summer at the SEC. Through these meetings, I gained a true sense for how lawyers working under a new regulatory scheme must operate; I also gained an appreciation for how carefully government attorneys must craft their arguments as they seek to develop positive precedent for future cases.

Sarah Berning, USDOJ
posted 13 July 2011

Sarah Berning

Department of Justice – Criminal Division, Organized Crime and Gangs Section (OCGS)

This DOJ section is a result of a recent merging by Congress of the Organized Crime and Racketeering Section and the Gang Unit. OCGS’s mission is to disrupt and dismantle the most significant regional, national and international gangs and organized crime groups. Sometimes the cases are headline news but mostly it’s just about going after the worst of the worst.

A “day in the life” of an intern in this department varies but mostly involves research and writing on an extensive variety of legal issues. Issues can be policy based, such as, RICO and piracy statutory overlaps, to more practical criminal research and writing on topics, such as, sentencing, motions/responses, and jury instructions. As a substantial criminal litigation unit, intern support is most often for the trial attorneys working on cases in U.S. Attorney Offices across the country. The biggest differences in the work from my other legal experiences are the scope of the cases and the national or international focus. Additionally, interning with the DOJ provides numerous opportunities to hear from top U.S. officials, such as, Attorney General Holder, FBI Director Mueller, Supreme Court Justice Kagan, and a number of others. Finally, a few international delegations of top officials who came to talk about organized crime problems our countries are all struggling with and how each country deals with them differently. Most importantly, all of the countries make contacts with others who can work with them to target these international criminal groups.

This has been an incredible summer experience and has just solidified my certainty that public service and criminal law are exactly where I belong.

Nicole Benincasa, DEQ
posted 11 July 2011

Nicole Benincasa

Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, Division of Enforcement

This summer, I am completing a 10-week legal clerkship with the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality’s (DEQ) Division of Enforcement. During this internship, I have participated in multi-media facility inspections, reviewed violation notices and drafted environmental enforcement orders, communicated with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and state and local officials about enforcement actions, and assisted with the preparation of legal guidance documents related to informal and formal administrative proceedings.

I have also participated in various environmental board meetings and conferences (see photo).

Additionally, my boss, Lee Crowell, has allowed me to attend administrative hearings and oral arguments at the Virginia Supreme Court and Court of Appeals, which are a few blocks away from the DEQ office in downtown Richmond. My boss urges me to participate in such activities, because he states that “if you want to be a good environmental lawyer, you need to be a good lawyer first.”'

My favorite experience during my internship has been the week I spent completing a multi-media (air, waste, and water) site inspection with the EPA. The other DEQ intern, Mike Bagel, and I traveled to the Norfolk Naval Base each day for a week, where we shadowed members of the EPA, the Tidewater DEQ office, and the Norfolk Facilities Office. We visited about 30 different sites on the base, which included helicopter maintenance areas, the naval shipyard, hazardous waste storage facilities, and various other areas (see photo).

We inspected each site to ensure that the naval employees were complying with all applicable environmental regulations. I am extremely grateful to have had such an incredible hands-on experience. During the week, Mike and I were also given the wonderful opportunity to network with environmental lawyers and policy enforcers from Philadelphia, Northern Virginia, the Tidewater region, and the Norfolk Naval Base. We participated in out-briefs with the inspectors, sat in on the meeting with one of the Commanding Officers, and dined with the professional staff involved with the site inspections. Experiencing the inspection process first-hand made me realize that I want to work somewhere that combines environmental law, policy enforcement, and field work.

Claire de Jong, Family Law Unit
posted 06 July 2011

Claire de Jong

Family Law Unit, Greater Boston Legal Services

I am spending this summer as a Student Attorney in the Family Law Unit of Greater Boston Legal Services. GBLS is the largest legal aid organization in the region, and helps low-income clients with a wide range of issues, including immigration, housing, and employment. Everyone served in the Family Law Unit is a victim of domestic violence, which makes for a challenging environment, but it also motivates all of the advocates here to provide the best representation possible for these vulnerable clients.

The unit handles all aspects of family law, including divorce, child support, custody and visitation, restraining orders, and guardianship issues. One of the main draws of this position for me was the opportunity to actually represent clients in court. The Massachusetts equivalent of Virginia’s third year practice certificate is 3:03 certification (named for the applicable statute), and those law students working in the unit who become certified are assigned their own caseloads. This means we handle all of the court appearances for those cases, in addition to preparing all pleadings and discovery, communicating and meeting with clients, opposing parties, and opposing counsel, and conducting research related to the cases.

I’ve been very lucky so far this summer, as I’ve been able to appear in court for matters ranging from simple motions to contempt hearings to actual divorce trials. At first it was more than slightly terrifying to realize that I was in fact representing clients, but my supervising attorney is wonderful and has been extremely helpful in guiding me through the process. I already knew I would seek a career in public service, and the motivated attorneys here who demonstrate a strong commitment to serving those in need have in turn strengthened my commitment to this important work.

Timothy Huffstutter, USAO Richmond
posted 05 July 2011

Timothy Huffstutter

U.S. Attorney's Office, Eastern District of Virginia (Richmond, VA)

This summer I am working at the United States Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Virginia in Richmond. I am on the civil side of things. The United States does not often sue people, but litigants sue the government quite often, and the U.S. Attorney's Office defends the government in court. The civil section in Richmond is small (4 attorneys, 3 of whom graduated from William and Mary), and I have really developed great relationships with all of them. I have worked on at least one project for each attorney. I have enjoyed working here, and I really like the work I am doing. I have done research on the Privacy Act, IRS tax liens, habeas petitions, Touhy regulations, and medical malpractice issues. I have even appeared in court. The civil section handles naturalization ceremonies in front of a magistrate judge, and I performed one of them a couple of weeks ago. I'm hoping to make more use of my third year practice certificate in the coming weeks.

This internship has also provided me with the opportunity to go on some great field trips. For example, I listened to the Supreme Court hand down some opinions, went shooting with the ATF, and met Judge Wilkinson from the Fourth Circuit. It was also cool parking in "law enforcement parking" with an "Official Business United States Attorney's Office" placard on my dashboard. Gotta love those job perks.

I like the civil side of things because we do not go to court that often. I do not see myself as much of a trial attorney. The work here mostly involves researching and writing, and I enjoy that. It has been interesting defending the government, and I am learning a lot. The civil side of things is a bit more laid-back than the criminal side, and it also has more of an academic-like feel to it.

Kristina Beer, NCFA
posted 01 July 2011

Kristina Beer

Legal Intern at the National Council for Adoption in Alexandria, Virginia

I have been given the opportunity to spend my summer working in Alexandria, Virginia for the National Council for Adoption (NCFA). This organization is an adoption advocacy nonprofit that promotes a culture of adoption through education, research, and legislative action.  It focuses on infant adoption, adoption out of foster car and intercountry adoption.  This nonprofit serves children, birthparents, adoptive families, adoption agencies, U.S. and foreign governments, policymakers, media and the general public as an authoritative voice for adoption.

Working at a small nonprofit has made my summer extremely interesting.  Each day is full of new and surprising experiences.  During my brief stay at the NCFA, I have been privileged to attend meetings on the Hill with senatorial and congressional staff members regarding adoption legislation.  I have also attended meetings with foreign embassies regarding intercountry adoption.  In my spare time I am researching and writing on various aspects of adoption law as well as pitching in around the office with the daily tasks needed to keep the NCFA running smoothly.

Additionally the National Council for Adoption is having its annual conference this summer and everyone at the NCFA is busy preparing for experts in the fields of adoption and foster care to come together from around the world for this conference.  The staff at the NCFA has truly embraced me as part of the team over the summer and they given me a taste of life at a nonprofit.  It has been eye-opening to see the passion and commitment, which drive the staff members of NCFA as they work tirelessly on behalf of children in need of loving families.  I will definitely be leaving this summer with a fresh and positive outlook on public service careers.