Students in D.C. externship program receive Congressional coaching

June 2, 2011

Imagine a course that culminates not in a written exam but in your oral presentation to a U.S. congressman of an idea for a bill, on which you received coaching from a U.S. senator and other legislative experts. This was the experience of students in the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law’s Washington">, D.C., Legal Externship program during the 2011 spring semester.

Students presented their ideas for new laws to Rep. David Schweikert, R-Ariz., as part of the program’s course, Legislative Advocacy and the Law, taught by Professor Orde Kittrie. Each student was assigned to come up with an idea for a change to U.S. law and write a draft bill, testimony in support of the bill, and a legislative strategy paper analyzing the problem their bill was designed to solve, how their bill would solve it, and setting forth coalition-building and media strategies for getting their bill passed. Download Full Image

Third-year law student Jonathan Ocana called the Legislative Advocacy course “an extraordinary opportunity to research your own bill idea on an issue you care about, develop a strategy for how to move it forward in light of budgetary and other real-world constraints, think about how to make it appealing to a member of Congress, and then actually pitch it to a member of Congress and have him provide helpful tips in response.”

Rep. Schweikert heard short presentations from each of the students on their legislative ideas, including: amending U.S. law governing international child abduction, enhancing online privacy, regulating genetic susceptibility tests, strengthening Medicare’s authority to study new medical technologies, amending the Patriot Act, improving regulation of derivatives, revising joint filing to include marriage-like relationships, promoting instruction on tolerance, updating blood donation regulations, and replacing some mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses with diversion. The session occurred in a hearing room of the Rayburn Office Building of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Schweikert told the class he was looking for great ideas for legislative initiatives, and hoped they wouldn’t mind him introducing some of them as bills. He responded to each student’s presentation with at least one question or suggestion, raising questions about the constitutionality of some of the bills, asking what provisions of existing law a student was planning to amend and focusing especially on how much the proposals would cost.

Schweikert seemed impressed with several of the student proposals. After Ocana presented his proposal for a change to current law, Schweikert said he had been at a meeting earlier in the day on what to do about that same issue, and asked Ocana for a copy of his paper. In response to a proposal by student Rachel Lindor, Schweikert asked an aide to jot down the idea “because I might want to borrow it.”

“Presenting our bill ideas to Congressman Schweikert was a tremendous experience,” Lindor said. “I learned a lot from his comments on not only my bill idea but those of my classmates. His responses helped crystallize one of the most valuable lessons I learned from the Legislative Advocacy course and then applied to my externship: that getting your policy idea adopted depends not only on its substantive merits but also on how effectively you position the idea within the larger political landscape, including by anticipating and defusing opposition to it.”

Another highlight of the course was a visit with Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., in his Congressional office. Kyl was named by Time Magazine in 2010 as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. Kyl gave students his personal perspectives on the legislative process and getting legislation passed. The senator provided examples from several key legislative battles of recent years including those over immigration reform and ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty. Kyl also provided students “grandfatherly” advice on how to career building.

Second-year law student Jason Burgoyne said that the meeting with Kyl “was an uncommon opportunity to receive candid advice and insight on real world strategies for legislative success from one of the most influential people in the world.”

Third-year law student Sara Cummings said that the Legislative Advocacy course, including the meeting with Kyl, “helped de-mystify the work of Congress” for her by providing insight into the importance of developing sophisticated strategies to address such factors as coalition-building, political timing, and pressures from colleagues of the same party, opponents from the other party, and constituents.

Earlier in the semester, the students heard from Jim Flug, former chief counsel to the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., who described his work beating back a Congressional attack on the U.S. Supreme Court’s “one man, one vote” decision. Flug also described his subsequent work as executive director of the National Legal Aid & Defender Association, in which capacity he helped promote adoption of the Legal Services Corporation Act, funding legal aid to the poor.

Other highlights of the course included visits by various legislative experts including a former senior legislative attorney for the CIA. Guest speakers described their experiences advancing legislation from idea to enactment, and shared with the class the lessons learned along the way.

“The Legislative Advocacy course was pivotal to my success in the externship,” said Ocana, who was hired by the U.S. Department of Transportation at the end of his externship there. “Much of the work we do at the Department of Transportation requires us to approach issues from both a legal and a policy perspective.

“This course, unlike the more theoretical courses I took in the rest of law school, taught me how to work in the real world, including how to research and deploy facts, how to identify and factor in political constraints, and how to communicate legal issues to policymakers.”

Since the program began in Spring 2010, students have worked in numerous federal agencies, including the Departments of State, Justice, Defense, Transportation, and Health & Human Services, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Federal Communications Commission and the Securities and Exchange Commission, and in several Congressional offices and at nonprofit organizations. Several externships have resulted in permanent employment.

Students in the Spring 2011 semester also participated in special activities, including a tour of the U.S. Department of State and a meeting there with Evelyn Aswad, the Assistant Legal Adviser for Human Rights and Refugees, who described her work as the department’s top attorney focused on international human rights.

The program welcomes applications from students at ABA-accredited law schools across the United States, and is offered in partnership with the Washington Center for Internships and Academic Seminars, a nonprofit educational organization that has ongoing relationships with 500 American colleges and universities and provides internships and academic seminars for more than 1,500 students each year.

Students gain experience, land jobs through law externships

June 2, 2011

Although the Washington">, D.C., Legal Externship Program is only three semesters old, it has already helped several students land interesting and rewarding permanent positions. The Program’s track record is particularly impressive in light of the challenging market for legal jobs nationwide.

Run by the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University in partnership with The Washington Center for Internships and Academic Seminars, the program enables law students from around the country to take courses from nationally renowned faculty in Washington, D.C. At the same time, they receive practical experience and a foothold in the D.C., legal market through supervised externships with government and nonprofit agencies. Download Full Image

“The program’s success in turbo charging students’ careers is a result both of the program’s design and also of the hard work that goes into helping students identify and land placements in legal offices of interest to them,” said professor Orde Kittrie of the College of Law. “The program courses and special programs are all designed to help students acquire an insider’s view of law and policy-making in the nation’s capital, build skills and connections that will be valued by employers in the D.C. area and elsewhere, and give students the tools and confidence to make a difference on issues they care about.”

Jared Allen, who participated in the Spring 2010 D.C. program as a second-year law student, externed for the counsel to the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, a not-for-profit organization with more than 400,000 members. The counsel then hired Allen for the summer, after which it “extended an offer for me to come back after law school, which I accepted,” he said.

“I've been flying since I was about 14, and I was interested in aviation law. There are only so many places where you can practice that,” said Allen, who praised the D.C. program’s diligence in finding him an externship that led to a job offer in the legal specialty in which he was most interested.

“Helping identify externship opportunities for Jared in the field of aviation law wasn’t easy,” Kittrie noted. “I had very little sense of which organizations in the D.C. area employed aviation lawyers, but after several days of searching the Internet and making calls, I managed to find Jared five openings.

“To Jared’s credit, he took the ball we handed him and ran with it all the way to the end zone,” Kittrie said. “We help create the opportunities, and coach the students on how to make the most of them, but it is ultimately the students themselves who must impress their supervisors sufficiently to land a job offer.”

Jonathan Ocana, a third-year law student who participated in the Spring 2011 program, was hired into a permanent position at the U.S. Department of Transportation at the end of his externship there.

“I wouldn’t have gotten the job without the D.C. program,” Ocana said. “The program turned law school into a good investment for me, both because the externship created an opportunity for me, and because what I learned during the program helped me take advantage of that opportunity.”

Once his externship managers got to know and value him, Ocana said, they looked for and found a creative way to hire him despite severe budgetary constraints. “People will tell you that all of the federal jobs are listed on,” he said. “But it turns out there are a lot of additional special programs and other opportunities that you don’t realize are available until you are inside the system, and a savvy externship manager uses them to hire you because they’ve gotten to like you and have seen you can do the work.”

Ocana’s externship involved work on civil rights issues, including a lawsuit brought on environmental justice grounds, a topic Ocana says he didn’t initially know much about. He credited the D.C. program’s Legislative Advocacy and the Law course with providing him with the “real world research, policy and communications skills (needed) to be effective in helping the department analyze what its response should be and how to communicate it effectively.”

Prior to starting the D.C. program, Ocana said he had not given serious consideration to working for a government agency. “I didn’t realize, until I came to D.C., how much responsibility you get while working for the government, and what an opportunity it provides to create your own work products and make a difference on matters of a magnitude I wouldn’t have expected to handle at my age,” he said.

Chris Huffaker, who also participated in the Spring 2010 D.C. program, externed for Rep. John Boozman, R-Ark. Huffaker said the semester was invaluable, giving him real-world experience in the complexities of politics and policy as he worked on various bills, including especially health-care reform.

Boozman gave up his seat to run for the Senate, and was replaced by Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark. Huffaker received job offers from both newly elected Sen. Boozman and newly elected Rep. Womack, and ultimately accepted a position as Womack’s legislative assistant for financial services, agriculture, environment and judiciary issues. Womack’s chief-of-staff told Huffaker that his participation in the D.C. program, including his Congressional externship, helped him beat out other applicants who had less experience with Congress and D.C.

Kirill Tarasenko, who participated in the Fall 2010 D.C. program as a third-year law student, externed for Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Calif., and the House Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade, which Sherman chaired. Tarasenko has accepted an offer to work after graduation for a legislative advocacy firm in his home town of Sacramento, Calif. He credits the job offer to his “wonderful semester” learning about and working on legislative issues in D.C., noting that “without our legislative advocacy class I probably would not have gotten this opportunity.”

Breton Rycroft, who participated in the Fall 2010 D.C. program as a visiting law student from the South Texas College of Law, externed for the Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs division of the U.S. Department of Justice. He was subsequently hired by the Narcotics and Asset Forfeiture division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Houston. “It seems likely that if I did not have the D.C. experience, I would not have been considered as a possible applicant,” Rycroft said. “I am extremely grateful for the opportunity I had in D.C. and what doors it has opened for me in Texas.”

In addition to the students who have already turned their D.C. program experiences into specific job offers, several students who have not yet sought employment noted that the program has inspired them to change their career goals.

For example, Rachel Lindor, who participated in the Spring 2011 D.C. program as a student in ASU’s joint M.D./J.D. program with Mayo Medical School, externed in the Office of the Secretary at the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. Lindor was assigned to provide policy recommendations for ways that the department, through any of its agencies, could better foster innovation in the medical device field.

“The recommendation I eventually provided actually gained traction at both the department level and within the agencies affected by it, putting me in the middle of a major policy change,” she said.

Lindor also was responsible for drafting “proposed regulations related to the mandatory disclosure of gifts between physicians and manufacturers, one of the more controversial pieces of the health reform legislation . . . for better or for worse, my writing is likely going to be a part of that law for years to come.”

Although Lindor will not be looking for permanent employment until after the completion of her M.D. degree, she said, “this semester has definitely changed my career trajectory,” explaining that she has come away “convinced that policy is the strongest tool for lasting change, and motivated to find a way to return to the policy-making process in the future.”

“I appreciate how hard Professor Kittrie worked to find me a great placement, and am grateful he arranged this one which wonderfully combined my longstanding medical interests with the legal background I’m currently developing, while introducing me to policy and inspiring me to be a part of the policy world in the future," Lindor said. ”The resulting semester in D.C. was the highlight of my medical and legal educations thus far.”

Kittrie said the program team, which also includes Professor Nicole Lehtman, has quickly developed a diverse menu of government and nonprofit offices interested in hosting students in externships at the intersection of law and policy. While the law school catalog listed just seven potential placements in D.C. prior to the program’s founding in 2010, it now has more than 40 placements.

Federal executive branch offices that have hosted College of Law externs for the first time since the Program’s founding in 2010 include: the State Department Legal Adviser’s Office, the Department of Health & Human Services, the Federal Trade Commission, the Federal Communications Commission, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Transportation, and several components of the Department of Justice (including Aviation & Admiralty Law, National Security, Federal Programs, Legislative Affairs and the Drug Enforcement Administration).

Congressional offices that have hosted College of Law externs include the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, the Office of Senator Al Franken, and the Office of Rep. John Boozman. International and non-governmental offices that have hosted College of Law externs include the Embassy of Canada, Organization of American States, Transparency International, Break the Cycle, the Grameen Foundation, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, the National Whistleblowers Center, the Drug Policy Alliance, and the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

“With this rich and diverse menu of potential placements,” said Kittrie, “the program is poised to continue helping students land interesting and rewarding legal jobs.”