BY EMILY BEARG
Every summer, the United States Department of Justice – the “largest law firm in the Nation”- offers summer programs in a variety of practice areas, in both paid and volunteer capacities.
The compensated summer internship program, for which applicants must already have completed a semester of law school before applying, accepts 120 to 150 law students in the Antitrust, Civil, Civil Rights, Environment and Natural Resources and Tax Divisions, as well as the Executive Office for Immigration Review and the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Three-Ls who have already secured a clerkship may also apply to the Office of the Solicitor General and the Office of Legal Counsel.
One-Ls and any other interested law students are eligible to apply for the volunteer internships offered by many of the Divisions of the DOJ, including the Criminal Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia.
Unlike the law-firm protocol of extending offers to well-performing summer associates, the only way to secure a permanent position at the DOJ is through a separate application to the Attorney General’s Honors Program during the 3L year.
The Honors Program places admitted graduates into the Antitrust, Civil, Civil Rights, Criminal, Environment and Natural Resources and Tax Divisions; the Federal Bureau of Prisons; the Executive Office for Immigration Review; the Immigration and Naturalization Service; and the U.S. Trustees’ Offices. U.S. Attorneys’ Offices do not participate in this program, as they do not hire graduating law students.
According to 3L Anna Lumelsky who worked as a paid intern last summer in the Civil Division, Environmental Torts Section, “if you are interested in the Honors Program, it’s helpful to have done a summer internship, since you can get a recommendation from someone at the Department.”
As the single paid intern in a section with only 15 attorneys, Lumelsky had much more responsibility than at the firm where she spent the other half of her summer. The Environmental Torts Section defends the government against environmental damage claims, and Lumelsky’s work included writing legal memos, drafting a reply brief and drafting a Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals brief.
Of the federal appellate brief, Lumelsky added, “you would never get to do that at a law firm [as] most likely the partner would be writing the brief.”
“If you can get placed in a smaller section [of the DOJ] it can be really nice,” she said, citing the amount of attention the attorneys were able to give her. “I think you should be picky about which section you’re in. My impression is that they are very different.”
Of the differentiation between paid and volunteer interns, Lumelsky said there is a “clear hierarchy.”
“I was given more interesting stuff, and generally had more responsibility. But the unpaid interns had a much more flexible schedule.”
Lumelsky commented that “splitting the summer is a good idea,” describing how helpful it was to compare the work experiences at her firm and then at the DOJ within such a short time frame. “The only drawback is that you have no free time,” she added, as the firm required eight weeks and the DOJ required six.
Despite the DOJ not operating on the budget of most law firms, Lumelsky said she was impressed by the events held over the course of the summer for all paid and volunteer interns. Although she did not arrive until the last six weeks of the summer, she said that other interns got a tour of the United States Supreme Court, the Library of Congress and other D.C. monuments, and heard speeches from the director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons and the Deputy Attorney General.
Thomas Benson, 3L, who worked as a paid intern in the Environment and Natural Resources Division, commented on the interesting dynamic within the Bush DOJ. Benson spent most of his summer working on a case against power plants that have violated clean air regulations, which began five years ago under the Clinton administration.
“The new administration has changed the regulations so that the law suit couldn’t even be brought now,” he said. But of the career attorneys in the Division, Benson commented that “people seemed happy, if wary of what might change” due to political shifts.
Benson said that his work mostly involved writing legal memos on the six or seven active cases within the overall initiative against the power plants.
A much larger section of the DOJ, the Environmental Enforcement Section has approximately 150 attorneys, with 20-30 summer interns, who each got assignments in different regions within the Environmental Protection Agency’s jurisdiction, Benson said.
“I really enjoyed [the experience],” Benson added. “The atmosphere was really positive, and the people are all working hard.”
Benson was also pleased with the level of training, citing the brown bag lunches where speakers discussed different aspects of environmental law and other elements of life in D.C.
Two-L Douglas Bloom worked as a volunteer intern in the Criminal Division, Computer Crimes and Intellectual Property Section, along with two other 1aw students who had just completed their first year.
Since the law governing computer and intellectual property crimes is all relatively new, Bloom commented, “The bulk of my work was writing memos, trying to resolve the DOJ stance for policy suggestions to Congress on behalf of the Executive.”
Bloom added that his office wrote the majority of the text of the USA PATRIOT Act concerning electronic communications and surveillance. He also worked on writing the trademark chapter for a manual written for the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices on how to prosecute computer crimes, and editing a brief in a pending criminal case.
“I loved it,” Bloom raved of the experience.