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Students gain experience, land permanent jobs through externships in College of Law's D.C. program
Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., (center), poses with students in the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law’s Washington, D.C., Legal Externship Program who receive valuable experience and a foothold in the Beltway legal market. Seated at the table on the left is Professor Orde Kittrie of the College of Law.
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.
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.
“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 www.usajobs.gov,” 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
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.”