Law in Contemporary Society
I thought I would create this page to allow us to all share our experiences this summer because 1) I'm curious what everyone is up to, 2) I've already had lots of stuff happen which I want to share and 3) I think it could be helpful for us to share what we're learning and perhaps learn more together than any of us is learning individually.

These are just a few of my thoughts and I'm sure I'll be adding more, but I hope people really pick this up.

I'm working at a small animal rights non-profit in DC called Compassion Over Killing (check out the site, learn a little, maybe sign a petition or two!). My first impression was that I should have paid closer attention during the research sessions for our LPW. During the memo-writing process for class we had pretty targeted searches to do so the research didn't seem too overwhelming, but my second day I was given some big research projects and it's daunting how much there is to find, and how inefficient I think I am at finding it. I've already gotten better (practice makes perfect), but I think I really underestimated how big a job legal research can be. Especially when one of your projects is "there's never really been a lawsuit like this, so see if you can think of a novel cause of action." Such is the uncharted territory of animal law.

The past two days I've been attending a meat industry conference at the USDA. Aside from all the humorous anecdotes I could share, like the PR lady who was an exact replica of the characters in 'Thank You For Smoking', it's been an eye-opening experience that has reminded me of lots of things we talked about in this class. First of all, the idea that creeds and rhetoric are not really directed at the opponents to a group but to the members of the group themselves is exceedingly apparent. Without going into too much detail, it's been a lot of beef, swine and poultry people telling themselves that what they're doing is OK and it's consumers and activists who just don't understand. It's been kind of funny listening to the same phrases being used over and over again, sort of like affirmation that we are right and they are wrong, with no gray area in between.

I've also realized that what is going on is an old institution is no longer serving everyone's needs, and the small activist groups are coming in to fill the gap, with the old institution digging in its heels and refusing to admit things are changing and that they need to adapt. It's exciting to be involved in such a changing area, although there is a ton of work to be done and animal advocates are still at a gigantic disadvantage money and influence-wise.

I'll update with more lawyering-focused stuff another time, but like I said I hope we can pool our experience to learn about different areas of law and what they encompass, what challenges they face, etc.

-- RorySkaggs - 09 Jun 2010

Hi Rory, I went to the COK page, but the only current petition is the letter to the FDA, which is kind of logistically complicated to do. Is it possible for COK to collect an online petition, then submit the whole thing to the FDA? There will be more participation that way, because it's so easy to do. I will send a letter anyway, I just thought I'd mention the low-effort alternative.

-- AmandaBell - 15 Jun 2010

They must have taken them down, I know the main one they were working on already had close to enough signatures last week. As to the FDA thing, it's too complicated to go into here, but at this time I don't think they can do an online petition. Thanks though!

If anyone is in California, you could also look into this: . Basically they are trying to prevent SPCAs and humane societies from forming, and severely limit their ability to monitor and enforce animal cruelty laws.

Anybody else doing anything this summer?

-- RorySkaggs - 16 Jun 2010

This summer I am working at the Legal Assistance Foundation in suburban Chicago. It is a general services office, so I see all types of cases, such as evictions, domestic violence, unfair collection practices, mortgage scams, and public benefit disputes. I mostly conduct initial client interviews and observe court proceedings. The cases are much more fact intensive than law intensive so legal research is light. The work is satisfying and it is nice to help real people with legal problems. Some general observations:

1.People really need lawyers, and most of them needed a lawyer six months before they finally decided to consult one.

2.Inadequate health insurance causes or exacerbates the legal problems of about 40 percent of the clients.

3. There is nothing more heart-wrenching than listening to a battered spouse discuss an abusive partner. The look of despair and hopelessness in their eyes is horrifying.

4.If you want to see a trial happen in three minutes, go to an eviction trial.

5.I have never fully appreciated the necessity of public welfare programs until now.

6.Getting the full story from clients is difficult. I am constantly reminded of Eben’s tale of beating the truth out of his client.

-- JohnAlbanese - 17 Jun 2010

Hi Everyone! This summer, I am working for a judge in the civil department of the Los Angeles Superior Court. My co-extern bailed before our job started, so I have a one-on-one relationship with the judge which is allowing me to learn a lot, but is sometimes intimidating.

I am most struck by how much time and how many resources our court system will give to a meaningless dispute. The judge I work for is a hard-working and learned man, who spends hours of his days dealing with people who are blatantly taking advantage of our system's low-bar to entry. If I were permitted to discuss the Court's business, I would have tales to tell.

I am quite lucky because I get to watch lawyers come into court every morning and advocate for their clients. It took about 5 minutes to see the difference between a good attorney and a bad attorney. Every day, I learn how I can use my license in a better way.

Mostly, I am learning to be well-prepared. It is striking to see how many lawyers don't know their stuff.

-- NonaFarahnik - 17 Jun 2010

One thing that I wish I had focused on more during my first year is being concise. I'm a pretty verbose person, and thought that it was incredibly difficult to keep my LPW memos to 12 pages. Writing 1000 word papers for Eben was even harder. Being in an office full of attorneys who are short on time and in most situations don't have time for anything over a 250 word summary of an issue that I present to them, I'm certainly learning the importance of keeping things short. It's definitely something that I hope to work on over the course of the summer and throughout law school.

-- DavidGoldin - 18 Jun 2010

I'm traveling. And thinking. Hope to see some of you as I move around. John, I'll be in Chicago next weekend - perhaps you can tell me about your work next Friday night? Nona, I met your freshman year roommate yesterday in Kansas City...

-- DRussellKraft - 18 Jun 2010

I'm working for a federal District Court judge in Northern California. I love it. Each assignment I've had has taken me into a different area of the law, and I agree with Rory that I wish my research skills had been better when I first started. I also agree that practice makes perfect, and while I haven't exactly mastered a terms and connectors search, I'm able to find what I need.

I think the most thrilling moments for me have been briefing my judge and watching him in court. Civ pro comes to life! In law school exams we point to the issues and argue both sides, but now it's all about making that hard decision and coming down conclusively on one side or the other. One party will win and the other will lose, and the disappointed party deserves a well-reasoned, thoughtful, and fair discussion of the issues on the part of the judge.

I agree with Nona that watching lawyers in court has been eye-opening (and eye-popping). One lawyer was being sanctioned for failing to file an opposition, and he tried to blame it on his secretary. For future reference, never do this. Fall on your sword.

In just a few short weeks I have begun to understand the kind of lawyer I want to be as well as the kind of lawyer I don't want to be. There are a lot of bad laywers out there: they don't listen to their clients, they don't return client phone calls, they miss deadlines and blow statutes of limitations, they file poorly written, incomprehensible complaints. There are great lawyers out there too, on both sides, and some go on to become great judges. It's an honor to work for one.

I hope everyone is enjoying their summer. I miss this class!

-- CarolineFerrisWhite - 18 Jun 2010

Much of my summer has been about navigating Indian politics, of my office, of certain local state governments, and of the country at large.

There are about 60 or so people at my office, including lawyers, social workers, grant writers, interns, IT staff, secretaries, chai brewers, cleaners, security guards, etc. Work, particularly legal work, isn’t just handed to interns, especially for a gora like me. You have to have the right amount of assertiveness to breach the communication and cultural barriers, and a month into the job I’m still getting the hang of it.

This week, I went on a fact-finding mission concerning sex trafficking in a very poor and rural state bordering Delhi. Our informants turned out to be aspiring politicians, they led us to certain areas of the village to kind of get a sense of the problem, but not to get any substantive information for effective public interest litigation; essentially, these politicians just wanted to get good press and drum up demagogic support. The level of exploitation of these poor trafficked women, directly and indirectly, is still difficult to process.

Much of the work that my organization does is direct impact litigation. Since the 1980s, in India, any person (including non-lawyers) may sue the government on behalf of an individual or group who has been deprived of fundamental or legal rights (e.g. standing is not required). On most issues, the High and Supreme courts are very progressive, but the trouble is that pro-human rights decisions fail to get implemented by the proper authorities, so NGOs continue to sue in order to hold officials accountable and slowly progress is made, or at the very least, awareness is raised.

It’s been really interesting reading about everyone’s experiences, and I hope everyone updates at the end of the summer. David, you may want to try working in India, lawyers and judges value the verbose here. An opinion I read the other day, which upheld a challenge to the death penalty (Bachan Singh), had references to Albert Camus, Harvey Milk, various deceased US Supreme Court Justices, and Jean Valjean (of Les Mis).

-- EricaSelig - 19 Jun 2010

Hi all---

Can we make this topic private?

I'm working in the General Counsel's office at Thirteen. It has been very humbling after a year of school where people care about your opinion and/or where you come down on an issue to a place where you're given the side for which to advocate. I'm sure that's pretty much a universal experience for everyone - maybe except those working for judges.

-- JessicaCohen - 20 Jun 2010

I'm working at the National Institutes of Health doing Technology Transfer for their Neuroscience division. Basically, my job is to work through the regulatory jungle to help a certain technology get to market, usually by commodifying the NIH's IP rights and finding a third party bio-tech firm willing to invest.

What struck me the most was how many different types of individuals I had to work with to get something done.

There is the investigator (scientist) who only wants to do research for the sake of doing research, and doesn't really care about it translating into the real world.

There is the FDA reviewer who has to abide by the regulatory red tape in every facet of the process, making me take detours to circumvent irrelevant concerns in order to arrive at the same destination.

And then there is the actual office bureaucracy, where massaging egos goes alot further than a good idea or some new insight.

It's not that I don't get anything done, but the top-down regulatory system is, in my opinion, inherently inefficient. In a perfect world (i.e. a world Eben would be satisfied in), these barriers would not exist. But, as we learned, we do not live in anything close to a perfect world.

-- MikeAbend - 20 Jun 2010

I'm working at the Office of the Appellate Defender in Durham, NC this summer. Our office takes care of indigent folks' general criminal appeals from all across the state, and works closely with other offices on the issue capital defense. I've gotten the chance to work with the Office of Parent Representation on family law issues as well.

It's an interesting experience so far in many ways. Mostly, it's been nice to see how the office operates. During a discussion this past Friday a lawyer expressed his appreciation for being allowed to defend his clients in the way he best saw fit, that he was given free reign of his practice. It's also been neat to see how people work as a part of the system of criminal justice, they try their best to win the cases the can, and take their job of keeping the police and the courts more or less in check very seriously. However, there are a certain amount of cases they know will lose, and watching the work put into even those cases has got me convinced that for everything wrong with the system, there are people out there trying their best to make it work, and make it right if possible. This summer has (so far) given me valuable insight into how working in this profession doesn't have to be such a negative experience, even if the client you're defending is less than scrupulous.

Also, Judge Lynch wasn't kidding, NC has some frightening criminal laws/theory.

-- MichaelHilton - 20 Jun 2010

Hi Guys- I'm in San Francisco working for a capital defense group. It's been really really interesting so far, if more than a little disheartening to come face to face with some of the major problems with the criminal justice system, and especially with capital punishment. The fact that defendants have to wait for years upon years before even being appointed appellate and habeas counsel, that there is such a scarcity of good lawyers willing to take their cases, and the way that the system is generally broken are all pretty depressing. That said, it's been a good experience to get some insight into how the system works (or doesn't), and to learn more about our clients' experiences.

Like Mike, I've also been impressed with those who are dedicated to this kind of work, and that even when they know they'll lose a case, they work hard because doing the work is important in itself, and they believe that they're making progress for a greater cause. It's great to feel a sense of the indigent defense community and be around people who share certain values. Being around others who are dedicated to getting the fuller picture of a client, to seeing them as people with rich and complicated (and often devastating) life histories, rather than simply as bad people who did bad things, has been illuminating so far- and I'm excited to see what the rest of the summer will bring!

Hope everyone else is doing well- I can't believe it's almost July. See you all soon.


-- JessicaHallett - 21 Jun 2010

I'm so glad to see a few other judicial externs in the mix. I am working for the CA Court of Appeal in Los Angeles, researching appeals for my chambers. My legal research abilities have literally quadrupled in the last three weeks (I don't know if any of you can say they same, I am sure you can). And I have had a crash course in CA law, procedure and style - basically this summer work is serving as an extra semester of schooling. It is also sparked my interest in clerking - does anyone feel the same?

-- AerinMiller - 22 Jun 2010

A lot of the projects described above sound fascinating. I cannot imagine how fulfilling it must be to work directly with clients.

I am working in international law, mostly doing pro bono advisory work. But the research is very interesting -- primarily because it is very different from everything I was taught to do in law school. I get to use bits of Economics, Religion, Culture, and everything other subject that would make any sense in the context of the work. Reading about the legal systems of many other nations (mostly small, under-developed ones) has made me appreciate the breadth and the vigor of the American legal system. For better or for worse, I often find myself looking at American Codes (mostly Delaware!) as models for nations with nascent legal systems.

In attempting to offer advise on complex protections that should be offered by the law, I am beginning to see the simplicity that forms the foundation for the most complicated regulations. But discovering the simplicity is only half the battle won, the other half is presenting it to those that are unfamiliar not only with the western legal systems but also with its people, its 'rationality', and its justifications.

-- MohitGourisaria - 23 Jun 2010

I am working this summer for the US Attorney's Office in San Francisco, Criminal Division, Major Crimes. For all purposes, this is the main prosecution unit of the US Attorney, dealing with most crimes that occur within federal jurisdiction. This means that most of my work are misdemeanors, especially DUIs, that occur on the many tracts of federal land within the Northern District (examples include the Presidio Trust within SF, and the National Forests). Similar to what many of our colleagues do in various criminal work, from district attorneys to defenders, I assist in the preparation and execution of cases that go through our section. In addition, I run the petty calender, where we deal with petty offenses, primarily traffic violations, in a setting similar to a settlement conference rather than a trial. It is interesting to see the use of an ADR within the criminal justice system, though offenders do have the option to contest in front of a judge (which carries serious consequences if they lose).

-- DavidGarfinkel - 23 Jun 2010

I am working for a non-profit capital defense group in Houston Texas this summer. The organization has ties to Reprieve UK and Australia, so there are a number of international interns and attorneys here, which allows for an incredible range of perspectives on the death penalty specifically, but also the law more generally. I am getting experience doing a lot of different things, as our clients range from pre-trial to post-conviction and resentencing. There have been opportunities to do more "legal" work like Federal Habeas petitions and research for pre-trial motions, as well as work in investigation and mitigation. It has been really really interesting working with a dedicated group of advocates, and doing so with a larger shared goal in mind. I have also really enjoyed learning first hand some of the ways "death is different" and just what the whole of a capital defense, with both attorneys and mitigators, looks like.

I am glad for this thread, its been really interesting hearing about the many diverse things everyone is up to this summer.

-- PeterWade - 23 Jun 2010

Hello everyone. I have been interning part-time at Legal Aid in San Diego, while helping my parents open a restaurant (also in San Diego).

I have been disappointed thus far by my experience at Legal Aid. I feel as though the majority of the full-time staff really do not care about the people who come in for help. They have no problem turning people away who come in with extremely pressing problems if they have yet to take their sacred lunch break. The one exception has been one of the immigration lawyers, who always tries to stretch Legal Aid policy to justify representation of various parties in need.

As for the restaurant, I'm going crazy dealing with the city government. I find many of the policies/ procedures completely arbitrary. For example, the health inspector has come to the restaurant three times, each time citing "violations" that she could have cited on her previous visit. The result is an ambiguous opening date.

I am leaving this week to spend the rest of the summer in Greece. I would rather pick figs and stare at the sea than think about law school for an additional second. I hope you all have a happy summer.

-- KalliopeKefallinos - 23 Jun 2010

I am learning what it means to be a summer associate at a pawn shop. I will be spending my last two weeks working at the Advancement Project, a non-profit, communications, and legal action organization committed to racial justice. I would say more about my experience but I'm on my work comp. and well, you know how that goes.

-- KrystalCommons - 23 Jun 2010

Hey guys. This post may not be very popular given the general tone of our class, but I thought that since I am having a good experience, I would share anyway. I am working as a summer associate at a law firm in the city, doing bankruptcy and litigation. While there are certainly cons to being in this type of work, I am truly enjoying it.

As many of you have mentioned, daily practice researching is doing wonders for my ability to navigate Lexis and Westlaw, and find relevant cases quickly. I was thrown into a big case we are doing, and asked to write a section of the argument for a brief that had to be submitted three days after I started working. I cannot express how satisfying it is to do work that you know will hopefully affect something, rather than simply practice exercises. I have been getting a crash course in Bankruptcy, legal writing, and the CPLR all at the same time.

I have to admit, seeing how a firm works I know it’s not for everyone. The hours can be absurd, I was there until 5:30am last week, and the work can be intense and fast paced. I am very fortunate however to be working in a boutique firm. While the lawyers are constantly busy, they are incredibly friendly and willing to take time out of their day to explain what the cases are about, or any particulars of an assignment that I did not understand the first time. A big surprise to me was how much many of them truly like their work. They are excited about the cases that they are dealing with. Further, they are often being given the ability to choose their work and which cases they take on.

I am not allowed to talk about any of the work, otherwise I would share stories. It is fascinating seeing all of the steps that go into preparing for a trial though, and how many different players are needed beyond the parties and the lawyers. One of the partners also came into work today with a Donovan jersey on under his suit, which was just incredible. (I hope people caught some of the game!) I hope everyone is having a rewarding experience this summer in whatever they chose to do, see you guys soon!

-- SuzanneSciarra - 23 Jun 2010

I echo Krystal's statements. When people ask me what I'm doing this summer, it is hard to explain. First, there are strict rules regarding what one can and cannot divulge to those outside of the firm. But, beyond that, it really is simple: whatever I'm told. While I've found that junior lawyers are able to express the type of work they would like to be involved in, at the end of the day, what one is assigned to is dictated by the needs of the firm. Generally, my anecdote that everyone can understand is, "Somebody's gotta represent the likes of BP." I'm actually not sure who is representing BP, so it is not a direct reference to my firm. However, there will be a generation of young lawyers who have to advocate on behalf of entities who engage in activities antithetical to their own personal value system and beliefs. I've asked a number of young lawyers if this bothers them; the general response is that everyone deserves representation and the "not-so-savory" aspects of working in a big firm can be balanced by engaging in meaningful pro bono work. Generally, I agree with this proposition. The extent to which one can find fulfillment in, or even merely tolerate, working in a firm is entirely personal. I've met those who have had an exit plan before they began their first day, and those who are open to the possibility, or aspire to be, a partner one day. All they have to do is survive the disorienting, and sometimes confidence-reducing aspects that typically define the first few years at a big firm, and they're all set.

As I sat in the SDNY Bankruptcy court on Tuesday listening to the CEO and President of Barclay's testify as they defend themselves against claims of fraud by Lehman Brothers, what I always knew about my future career trajectory was all the more solidified. While Barclay's is certainly entitled to a vigorous defense, and Lehman has a right to bring a legitimate cause of action, I am one of those individuals who "needs more". It is common knowledge that clients lie -- the frequent refrain, "I don't recall", at the hearing illustrated this to me -- but I don't know if I can easily accept this fact when so much is at stake. Much to my satisfaction, I am not alone in this feeling. For the most part, I would say that law firms are not comprised of young lawyers who, by coming to a firm, feel like they've finally arrived at their life's calling. Instead, many view their time at a firm as a layover between law school and what they really want to do, whatever that may be. In the mean time, you gain training from practitioners who are at the top of their game, and are able to knock down some principal on massive amounts of loans. This alone is enough to lure young lawyers in for a least a few years. And, the survival of a law firm is built on this model -- large rates of attrition over a few years, so that fresh, young (and cheaper) blood can be brought in to replenish the ranks. Obviously, though, there can be an argument made that no amount is worth compromising one's value system. Again, that is a personal decision that each individual is entitled to make.

All of this is not to suggest that I am not having a positive experience. To the contrary, I'm having a quite enjoyable summer -- minus the long hours and the backbreaking pressure to not have so much as a misspelled word in an email. If nothing else, I'm using this experience to learn: about the legal profession, about myself, and about what interests me.

-- JenniferGreen - 24 Jun 2010

Hello all, I'm spending this summer working for an NGO in Nairobi. The aspect of the internship that I have found most frustrating is the level of bureaucracy and duplication in the arena of public interest/human right's work. Common goals abound, yet so many different organizations, individuals and government departments all act in separate (and at times inconsistent) ways to reach those goals. The organization I am working with recognizes this, and is actively trying to build coalitions to encourage and facilitate efficient activism.

The stories I've heard have been heartbreaking, to be sure, but on some level I find the sloppy attempts at problem solving even more infuriating. Problems may be bad, but not using resources effectively to solve those problems seems even worse.

- Jackie

It seems that a lot of people are not allowed to talk about their work even just very generally. I am lucky enough to be able to say a little about the only case that I am working on. I am on the Appeals team of the Office of the Prosecutor in the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in the Hague, and Popovic is the only case currently on appeal.

On the prosecution side, everything seems to be justified. The primary purpose of this ad hoc tribunal is to bring war criminals to justice, Thus there is an assumption that during the conflict in former Yugoslavia, there must have been many people who should be responsible for the atrocities committed. In the ICTY we can see posters similar to this. everywhere, and most of the time the guys on such posters are just defendants whose cases are still on appeal. It seems that the presumption of innocence does not always apply here. When I started the internship, I did not think this to be anything wrong: isn’t it the chief function of the tribunal? However, I am not so sure now after watching the live cast of the delivery of the Popovic trial judgment and later being assigned to help with the appeal of this case.

When the judge said “we think the only sentence appropriate for you is life imprisonment,” Popovic shook his head in denial, displaying anger, hatred, and many things more that I don’t know how to describe. Even though I had had the assumption that this guy must be a bastard, I still felt shocked when I saw this. Not shocked at his expression, but at how I felt about it. He did not think he did anything wrong, and I started to doubt my judgment that what he did was purely evil. The doubt only deepens after I actually dug into this case and learned more about the background of the conflict in former Yugoslavia.

The Srebrenica massacre was committed by Serbs against Muslims, but the killings among them and Croats, Albanians, and many more people date way back into history when the Ottoman Empire was still strong. Most of the time these groups of people live together well, but those killings in the past are just buried in the collective memory and never forgotten. When there was a sense of insecurity due to the collapse of economy in the early 90s, some simple political incitement by people like Milosevic would easily remind the Serbs of everything which happened in the past. In Serbian culture, there is a concept called blood vengeance: when someone kills your family member, you have to kill his or her family member before the deceased can rest in peace.

As to Popovic himself, and other defendants, it is easy for us to think of them as bloodless butchers who killed 8,000 people in Srebrenica. However, the killings are only part of the story in the 1,000-page trial judgment. Actually, some of the defendants (all the defendants involved in this case were just middle-ranking officers, the highest among whom was a colonel) even tried to resist the order from the very top. So it’s again the issue that Jennifer raised above: do bad guys “deserve vigorous representation?” When I started my internship, I would hesitate to say yes. I still do now, but I would also hesitate to say who’s a bad guy and who’s not.

On the other hand, I still cannot persuade myself that I can represent any kind of client. When I was working in a big law firm in Taiwan, the firm represented an American TV manufacturer in a suit against the former workers in its factory in Taiwan. The manufacturer used all kinds of toxic solvents in TV production, and many workers thus got cancer. After learning this, the first thing it did was to withdraw all the assets from Taiwan. When the Taiwanese judicial system finally acted, there was about 100,000 USD left in its bank account, to compensate about 500 dying workers, one fourth of whom had died. I quit my job shortly after I was assigned the case then, and I am still not ready to represent it now. However, where to draw the line is becoming harder and harder for me.

-- WenweiLai - 24 Jun 2010

I echo Wenwei's statement - I wish I could talk more about what I'm doing this summer, as I find it truly interesting. That said, I'll give a general overview.

I am working at a large drug company in the corporate legal department. The thing that I enjoy most about my work is that I am constantly learning - about regulations, about industry practices and about some of the things that guide the companies that are in many ways driving the research and development in the field. I have always been interested in the biopharmaceutical industry and it is fascinating to learn more about the legal issues that people actually deal with on a daily basis.

As I mentioned above, I have also learned the value of being concise. Many people don't have time for 2,500 word memos or briefs in the real world. They want 200 word summaries of the main issues and two or three pertinent cases in the region. Like Aerin, I have learned more about research in these past few weeks than I have during the entire semester.

Overall, my experience thus far has demonstrated to me how much more we learn on the ground, doing actual legal work, than we do sitting in JG 103. Granted, we need to learn basic principles and legal analysis, but being around lawyers who are doing "real" legal work has taught me a huge amount.

I am looking forward to the next few weeks and also to hearing about the experiences of others as the summer continues. If anyone wants to talk more about their experience or learn about mine, please don't hesitate to contact me individually - I'd love to talk (especially now that I have more time...). Many thanks to Rory for starting this page.

-- DavidGoldin - 27 Jun 2010

Hi all, I am working for the summer at the Center for Biological Diversity in San Francisco. The Center is a non-profit organization that does environmental advocacy and litigation. I can echo the discussion above about LPW being the most relevant course so far, and about improving my searching skills through daily use. I think the fact that our most useful class was a 1-credit affair that met once a week really speaks to the gulf between the affectations of the way law school is done at Columbia and the realities of practice. I've worked on a variety of different cases. Most of my work has been related to litigation over decisions by Fish and Wildlife Services or the National Marine Fisheries Service to not list a species as endangered or threatened.

I have really enjoyed my time here. I found 1L a stressful experience, but it feels worth it now. It is wonderful to get to the office in the morning and realize that my job for the day is to think and write about projects that will affect the real world in a positive way. What a privilege. Law school made law feel like some kind of arbitrarily-judged competitive sport, like figure-skating or synchronized swimming, but the past few weeks interning have shed light for me on why some people describe law as a calling.

-- DevinMcDougall - 04 Jul 2010

Hi, I just passed the halfway mark of my internship with the Queens District Attorney's office, Domestic Violence Bureau. We prosecute domestic violence complaints, and the work is interesting in that our lawyers cannot be said to have clients, because in over half of the cases the complainants would rather that we not prosecute. In those cases, the works feels very mechanical. We simply must call in the police officer, fill out a form with the standard legal language ("when responding officer arrived at the scene s/he found the complainant hysterical/fearful/greatly alarmed with injuries of such and such nature") and use the police officer's testimony to extract from defense counsels plea bargains of Orders of Protection or Anger Management Programs (most of the time) and without photographic evidence or convincing police testimony most of such cases, I imagine, are dismissed for insufficiency. I was surprised at the sometimes antagonistic tone perfectly sweet ADAs took towards complainants who wished the charges to be dismissed. I feel quite a few, after a couple years of such work, are simply tired of being lied to by those they feel they are helping.

I’m learning that the marks of domestic violence are never as dramatic as one might expect – punches sometimes leave no mark, and dark skinned people have less noticeable bruising. The first two violent crimes I encountered were committed by women against men. One, a 19 year old Chinese female smacked her boyfriend with a phone after he catch her taking money out of his wallet, and we have three pictures of his bleeding face. The other, an Asian (Southeast or Indian) woman stabbed her husband with a knife in the arm, the second time she’s done this in their marriage. Strange how people can remain married after something like that; strange how a man will put up with something like that.

The first time I got to second seat my ADA (basically take notes, consult during breaks) was her bench trial regarding a Romanian man who allegedly violated an order of protection filed against him by his ex-wife, a middle aged, educated Romanian woman who has been here for 5 years on a tourist visa. She took care of him during his throat cancer, in exchange (I infer and the defense attorney insinuated) for him filing residency papers in her behalf. The defense attorney sought to raise reasonable doubt by bringing in the possibility that she fabricated the incident in order to benefit from the Violence Against Women Act. The judge found the doubts raised quite reasonable, which I found to be a horrible decision. Because how a law intended to protect battered immigrant women can now be used to against them to malign their credibility.

Most of the cases are very straight forward - the complainant, even if doubtful, signs a Supporting Deposition certifying that the responding police officer's version of events as stated in the complaint is true, and a relatively light offer is made and accepted. The cases with complainants who want their respective defendants out of their lives (or the ones who refuse to take our phone calls) are usually offered full orders of protection are given, with some sort of anger management or batterers' or stalkers' or alcoholics' program. The rising third years have their own cases and can present their own cases in court. One of my daily tasks is calling complainants to ask what they would like us to ask of defense counsel - whether they want full orders (no contact whatsoever) or limited (can even live together but no harassing, menacing, threatening, hitting, etc), whether they think some sort of counseling program would help, whether they need to come to the office so that we can send them to Safe Horizons next door.

Now that I feel fully comfortable in the office and have done and can do basically everything that I can possibly do for the office, the best word for the work is simply “cushy.” The office is the most congenial I have ever worked in, and the Assistant District Attorneys have a good deal of freedom in setting their own schedules and in handling their cases. The work is as far from stressful as can be. I actually miss being in school, taking classes and reading about difficult cases. Most of the cases are surprisingly straightforward. The police officer usually responded quickly enough to witness an injured complainant, there are usually pictures, and even without pictures or a complainant or a police officer the district attorney's office can access the actual 911 call. Even when I have to write a response to a defense motion, I can either find old motions to model mine after or browse through the ADA binders to find the relevant cases. Defenses tend not to be that creative, and I'm sure I've read the same arguments against admissibility of evidence and insufficiency of fact copy and pasted with different defendants.

The most exciting case so far was the trial of the rather slick, egomaniacal man who stabbed his girlfriend 13 times and burned her with a crack pipe (yet she survived and was able to testify) and while in prison impregnated a prison guard. We had to listen to his prison conversations with his two other girlfriends for incriminating admissions. Quite entertaining in the way gross, overly sexualized and dumb movies are entertaining. The best part was when the defendant fake sobbed for ten whole very loud minutes about how much he loved the victim, how he’s found God and how Jesus must forgive him, while being cross-examined.

EDIT: I now realize the incredibly slow movement of the court system. Recently I got a stack of cases to be heard on September 22 and it's incredible that so many lives will be in limbo until then (everyone must have an order of protection forbidding him or her from living at home and police officers do random home visits to make sure they're not). It's almost set up so that the best thing a person charged with misdemeanors or violations can do is to take the earliest offered plea and so be rid of the whole process. Every motion filed, every adjournment means a delay of a couple weeks. The goal seems not to be justice when 2009 cases over third degree assault or harassment charges are still being fought over.

-- CeciliaWang - 08 Jul 2010

It's been really great reading everyone's posts- I like getting an impression of both what issues I've had in common with other people's experiences (diving into legal research), and what types of experiences I'm not getting (most obviously, time in a courtroom; I was supposed to go to one trial about two kids lighting a dog on fire, but it got pushed back).

As I think a couple people have said, one thing that is striking is how often your work will not be fully read, and how important it is to keep things concise on account of this. For my first five or six memos, I did the research and then just started writing, which resulted in lengthy and not well organized memos. Then I remembered the advice we got about planning out every sentence and really thinking about what you're going to write before you write it, which has resulted in work product which is much more succinct and clear.

Another thread from class which is readily apparent here is how important the judge is to the success of the case, and how much many lawyers would pay just to know who their judge will be and what makes them tick. (Side question: Has anyone working for a judge or prosecutor already picked up on their tendencies such that you can predict how they will rule or what cases they will prosecute?) Especially in a field like animal law, where people are usually really supportive or completely antithetical, knowing your judge (or prosecutor, if you're pushing criminal charges) makes all the difference.

Or at least theoretically could make all the difference. We had a case a few years ago where the judge was totally on board with the case, given the egregious cruelty which had been caught by an undercover investigator. Despite the overwhelming evidence against the defendants, the judge ruled not guilty. She had been pushing a settlement the whole time, and eventually called my boss and said she knew they were guilty, but there was nothing she could do. Translation: she was an elected judge in a heavy agriculture county, and could not afford to upset the farm community. While I hope this is the exception to the rule, it certainly makes me think that law is, in fact, politics.

-- RorySkaggs - 09 Jul 2010

Thanks, Rory, for starting this topic. I've really enjoyed seeing what everyone has been up to this summer.

I’m working with Kids in Need of Defense, an organization which pairs unaccompanied minors who have immigration cases with pro-bono attorneys. There’s a bit of research, but I mostly handle referrals, do the initial screenings, and set up the intake interviews. It’s pretty sweet. Two weeks ago, I started doing the intake interviews myself, but I’m still always worried that I will either fail to get all of the relevant information from the kids or that I will end up making the kids cry by questioning too insensitively.

Immigration law, at least with respect to kids, is both interesting and depressing. On the one hand, many of these children have amazing stories, which they tell very vividly. On the other hand, the only kids that get to stay are the ones who have a legal reason to stay, obviously. The legal reason is usually that they qualify for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status because they have been abused, abandoned, or neglected, or that they qualify for asylum because they fear returning to their home country.

So the kids who tend to win their cases are the ones who most need the win, which is nice. But many of the smart, hard-working young people, whom the United States would be lucky to have, simply have no legal reason to be here, so everyone loses. This issue was in the news recently in the story of a Harvard student who happens to be here illegally.

Even though immigration is a mixed bag, I’m pretty sure I prefer the (quasi) real world to law school. I can see exactly how and why what I’m doing matters. I have time to think, which I really value. I like my boss, the attorney who supervises the branch, which adds a lot.

Incidentally, last week I went to a lecture on a specific immigration issue, and I learned that immigration litigators are sharing their notes and experiences on how some creative arguments and strategies are being received around the country over a secret, password-protected wiki.

-- AjKhandaker - 10 Jul 2010

Hi all. It's been very interesting reading all of your experiences, and I hope more people will continue to share. Here is mine:

I am working at the NY State Attorney General's Office this summer, primarily in the claims and litigation department, which handles lawsuits against the state (including a lot of personal injury). Like Nona, I am struck by the amount of resources trivial claims (some shamelessly meritless) can take up from the state. Out of curiosity, I looked up the amount of damages NY has paid out and learned that the state paid out more than $14 billion to plaintiffs in damages in 2008 (Pacific Research).

Another thing I'm struck by is the very slow speed of the judicial system. I'm handling cases now that were filed over four years ago. At witness preps, the most common answer seems to be "that was too long ago, and I don't remember." I attended an oral argument for a remand motion in the SDNY court when my job first started (an excellent experience), and we still have not heard back. I was aware of the slow turnaround times before, but experiencing its effects on a case firsthand is different.

In recommending settlement amounts, it is interesting to see how completely arbitrary damages can be, especially for "pain and suffering," and how wildly they vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction (note: if you get hurt due to someone else's negligence, get hurt in Bronx County). As others have mentioned, in recommending whether to settle or to go to trial in my memos, the tenor and substance of a judge's prior opinions are key things to consider.

Finally, the most interesting (and unexpected) part of my job has probably been learning about the state's prison system. I had a chance to visit Sing Sing the other week. The NYS AG handles many inmate cases; when one inmate is assaulted by another, for example, they sue the State for failure to protect. Prisoners also often file pro se cases against the State alleging procedural defects in disciplinary hearings within the prison, which is handled primarily by another intern, but which I hear about.

Overall, I'm learning a lot and enjoying my experience very much. I've been impressed by the amount of hands-on experience I've gotten here.

-- GraceChan - 20 Jul 2010



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