Washington and Lee University School of Law

Washington and Lee University School of Law

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Life-long learning and the Future of Legal Research

Gene Hamilton, a rising 3L from Grayson, Georgia, is working for the Air Force General Counsel's Office at the Pentagon.

Going into law school, I had the faulty impression that attorneys knew absolutely everything there was to know about their respective field of practice. I was naïve. During my first semester of law school I quickly discovered how wrong that impression was. Just like the rest of life, it is impossible to know everything about anything.
 
This realization became even more apparent to me over the last two school years and the last two summers. I have had the chance to work with some extremely talented, bright, exceptional attorneys. But even the ones with 20-30 years of  experience can’t know everything. Sure, they might have a better initial understanding of the issues they confront, but even the most experienced attorney needs to conduct research on the most basic aspects of their practice areas, if for no other reason than to ensure the law hasn’t changed. Understanding that fact helped quite a bit during both of my summer experiences. It also helps during the school year. Research skills are vital to practicing law.
 
Legal research changed quite a bit over the course of the Twentieth Century. Practitioners have progressed from using physical digests, reporters, and pocket parts to electronic databases on Westlaw and LexisNexis. And while searching the electronic databases can be a pain at times, I am thrilled that, except in limited circumstances, I don’t need to conduct my primary research with the physical legal reporters. All of these changes lead me to wonder, what’s going to be the next big thing in legal research? Where do we go from here?
 
Will we finally get away from the distinction between published/unpublished cases in every court across the country? After all, if the primary source becomes what is electronically available, and no one has to physically publish anything, does it even make sense for us to not treat one case’s holding as being equal to another’s when they are issued by the same court?
 
Will mainstream search providers such as Google and Microsoft eventually take over the legal research markets as well? No offense meant to Westlaw or LexisNexis, but I often wonder how much more effective legal research would be if their search engines were powered by one of the larger search providers.
 
I have a number of other questions about the future of legal research. For now, I take comfort that we all have to do some research before giving legal advice. Although it can be a pain at times, learning about a new aspect of the law can also be one of the best parts of working in the legal world.

The Most Important Meal of the Day

Lindsey Brown, a rising 3L from Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, is working for a private law firm's White Collar group in Washington, DC.

Every Tuesday all of the summer associates, along with the recruiting team, gather for a weekly breakfast.   These breakfasts have proven to be one of my favorite summer events. Apart from the free food and coffee, these events provide the summer associates with an opportunity to learn about what others are working on and with the chance to catch up. 
 
Last Tuesday, for example, one summer associate shared his experience with an international arbitration assignment. This summer associate has spent the bulk of his time working on matters pending before the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID). Specifically, he was tasked with writing memos on a variety of issues in cases involving clients in South America, Eastern Europe and Asia. Hearing about what others are working on makes these Tuesday breakfasts one of the highlights of the week.
 
Breakfast, of course, is not the only meal of the day. There are plenty of opportunities for interesting conversation at lunch and dinner. Today, lunch with two associates in the trade group was no exception. Pleasantries quickly turned into a stimulating conversation regarding the Obama Administration's position on trade.  One of the associates recently published an op-ed arguing that the Administration's failure to take a stance on trade has resulted in a policy of de facto protectionism—something that, this associate argues, subverts the President’s economic and foreign policy objectives. Although differing perspectives were articulated, we all agreed that it will be interesting to see how the Administration’s trade policies are eventually shaped and implemented.
 
This summer, however, has not just been about good food and good conversation. As the summer progresses, I continue to receive stimulating and substantive assignments.   For example, I recently considered a plea agreement that, in exchange for the defendant’s cooperation, would require the government agree not to charge the defendant’s family members. With regard to this plea agreement, I explored the following: (1) whether plea agreements involving third-party interests are permissible, and (2) whether the defendant’s decision to cooperate was the result of coercion.  The memorandum I drafted to memorialize my findings was particularly interesting because it allowed me to consider the implications associated with plea bargaining and the rights that one waives when he or she enters into such an agreement.
 
Finally, I thought it might be interesting to share the experiences of a friend, who is working for a different law firm here in Washington.   He has spent much of his summer working on energy, climate, and environmental matters, including the deconstruction of the House climate bill. As part of his work, he has attended numerous hearings on Capitol Hill and has drafted innovative legal analyses regarding the bill’s implications for a range of clients. He was even sent on a thirty-six hour trip to Los Angeles to cover an EPA hearing concerning a proposed rulemaking. Although very different from my experience, I know that he has found his summer work to be equally challenging and rewarding.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Ins and Outs of the U Visa

Kathy Pritts, a rising 2L from Oakland, MD, is interning with Advocates for Basic Legal Equality (ABLE), Inc., a non-profit law firm in Ohio.

Although a large part of my work as a member of the Migrant Farmworker program at ABLE involves interaction with, as well as research for, our farmworker clients, I have also been involved with immigration cases for non-farmworkers. These cases include applications for U visas, which are given to immigrants who have been the victims of certain specific crimes, including rape, trafficking, domestic violence, and kidnapping. The majority of U visa applicants who come to our office for assistance have been victims of domestic violence. These applicants must submit affidavits and other evidence documenting the abuse. Part of my job involves interviewing these clients about the domestic violence they endured, as well as collecting the various documents necessary to complete the visa application. This is often a very emotional and difficult process for our clients, and the immigration system is not always friendly to their needs.
 
For instance, one step of the application process requires a valid passport from the applicant’s country of origin. This presents an obstacle if the U visa is based on child abuse, as the abusive parent may refuse to cooperate in obtaining a passport for the child. Such complications, though not insurmountable, provide an added level of stress and frustration to an already difficult process for our clients. They also slow down the visa application, which is particularly problematic as applicants typically do not receive employment authorization until their visa petition has been approved.
 
Another difficulty that U visa applicants face is the fact that they must submit a certification that they were, are, or are likely to be helpful in the investigation or prosecution of the crime upon which their visa application is based. This document must be signed by a local, state, or federal government official. These officials are sometimes hesitant to sign such statements. The U visa is a fairly new method of obtaining legal immigration status (it was first used in 2007), and law enforcement officials are sometimes unfamiliar with the process. One obstacle which we have encountered is that these officials may believe that they are being asked to sign a statement that a crime actually occurred; in reality, the statement merely establishes that the applicant was helpful in investigating a possible crime. For this and other reasons, it often requires perseverance in order to obtain such certification for our clients.
 
These issues, as well as other difficulties which are often encountered during a U visa application, require patience and sometimes creativity on the part of the legal advocate. I have enjoyed learning about some of the nuances of the U visa, as well as some practical ways to minimize the complications which inevitably arise during the application process.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Wanna Feel Gravity? File a GAO Report for NASA

Lindsay Hitz, a rising 2L from Hershey, PA, is interning with the Office of Chief Counsel (OCC) at NASA Langley Research Center.

Searching through piles of paper, documenting privileged communications, and discerning a logical order for thousands of pages are just a few of the steps required to assemble a report to the GAO. The majority of my time over the past week has been spent assisting attorneys on the BLT with a discovery request for pending procurement litigation. In the process of compiling a record composed of over 20,000 pages, I have been able to learn a lot about the case simply by sifting through the massive amount of documents. Now that the record is physically compiled, the next step will be to assist the attorneys with research necessary to write the agency response brief.

While I admit that placing documents in binders for hours on end is not necessarily a glamorous or intellectually stimulating task, I appreciate being exposed to the process of compiling an agency report. I think that is important to realize all of the work and thought that goes into these seemingly menial tasks in order to have a better understanding of the case as a whole. My internship will end before this case reaches the hearing stage, but I am glad that I had the opportunity to play a role and look forward to checking in with the attorneys this fall to find out the result.

In between sifting through documents, I had the opportunity to take a break to attend the LARSS weekly lecture. This week a former astronaut, Dr. Roger Crouch, spoke about his experiences as a Payload Specialist in space. He gave a very descriptive and honest account of his experiences. From the fear and anxiety that he felt right before lift-off to the way his lungs responded to the pressure of take-off, Dr. Crouch painted a detailed picture of life as an astronaut. I was fascinated to hear about the sometimes difficult transition astronauts experienced upon returning to Earth. In a humorous tone, Dr. Crouch depicted times when he would wake up in his bed at home and attempt to push off as if he was still in the shuttle. As you can imagine, the result on Earth was a little different and a little painful.

The lecture included many other interesting tidbits and was probably my favorite up to this point. Next week is the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11 landing on the moon. In celebration, NASA will have viewings of "The Wonder of it All," an Apollo documentary, and a live viewing of interviews with six Apollo astronauts. I look forward to participating in the celebration!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Junior Pirate Fighter

Sarah Mielke, a rising 3L from Bismarck, ND, is interning with the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime in Vienna, Austria and Nairobi, Kenya.

Since my last posting, I’ve left Vienna and joined the UN Counter-Piracy Program in Nairobi, Kenya. (Pirates of the high seas, not rip-off movies.)
 
When I arrived in the office my first day, my boss said, “ Welcome to Kenya, and congratulations, you’re now the world’s #2 expert on the UN response to piracy.”
 
The program coordinator (my boss) arrived in Nairobi the middle of May with no other staff in place. Lucky for me it’s far easier to pick up some free intern labor than to get personnel through the UN HR bureaucracy. By default, I’m the #2 in command.
 
The program I’m working on is designed to aid Kenya in prosecuting Somali pirates. Normally suspected pirates are taken to their home country for prosecution, but Somalia has been in near anarchy for over a decade and isn’t in a position to patrol their waters, much less prosecute offenders. In response, several countries have made agreements with Kenya under which foreign navies can transfer apprehended suspects to Kenya. The legal foundation is still a bit murky, but the idea is that suspects are arrested and detained at sea based on universal jurisdiction, transferred based on bilateral agreements, and prosecuted under Kenyan domestic law.
 
In support of Kenya’s undertaking, the UN has started a program to aid Kenya in areas strained by the additional burden of piracy prosecutions: police, judiciary, prosecutors, prisons and so on. 
 
The highlights of my first week centered around pirate transfers. For starters, I spent an afternoon sitting in a circle with Kenyan prosecutors and the legal counsel for the EU Navies, collectively drafting transfer guidelines for countries intending to transfer piracy suspects to Kenya. The document has since been accepted by the EU and EC and disseminated to naval ships around the world. I also had the opportunity to be present at an actual handover aboard an Italian warship.
 
I’m learning lots and couldn’t be happier about the experience. More next time on pirate trials and prison visits.
 
W&L’s Junior Pirate Fighter, over and out.
 

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Work from Home Week 2009

Marti McCaleb, a rising 3L from Waco, Texas, is interning at Legal Voice in Seattle, Washington.

Even in the land where Microsoft dominates the local economy, computer catastrophes can and will happen. I’m back in the office today, for the first time in over a week. To celebrate Independence Day, our server decided to make its own sort of fireworks display. Microsoft’s primary campus may be just 20 minutes away from downtown Seattle, but it took the better part of a week to get the new server online. In the meantime, we found the opportunity to celebrate “Work from Home Week 2009.” I quickly learned that I’m not the type to successfully manage flex-scheduling. To me “work from home” means things like laundry, dishes, and carpet-steaming. So, I opted for a “Work from Starbucks” model instead. There’s one on every other corner, so you can always go for a change in scenery, it’s relatively quiet, and the people-watching is second-to-none when you need a mental break. And of course, there’s a copious amount of caffeine available. 
 
In some offices, a down server would be a minor inconvenience, taking things off-line for a few hours. For a ten-person non-profit, it can be devastating. It’s taken a lot of creativity and flexibility to keep the office running when the office has been completely shut down. Without access to the server files, time-sensitive projects had to be completely recreated. I still can’t decide if it was a good week or not. In some ways the break in routine and the increased pressure helped make me super productive. At the same time, when there isn’t really a clear distinction between professional and personal time, it’s easy to feel like you should always be doing more. Ideas about work-from-home plans and flex scheduling get brought up a lot in discussions about work-life balance. It may be a great solution for some people, but I’ve definitely learned that my work-life balance is best when work is work and home is home.

Friday, July 10, 2009

You Can Get It All at the Pentagon

Gene Hamilton, a rising 3L from Grayson, Georgia, is working for the Air Force General Counsel's Office at the Pentagon.

Like so many summer employers, the Air Force General Counsel’s Office entices applicants to its program by telling them they will be able to work on a broad range of practice areas. Unlike many summer employers, however, it actually comes through with its promise and provides a truly unique opportunity to work on a broad range of practice areas. Without going into too much detail, I have thoroughly enjoyed working on my assignments this summer, which have ranged from issues focusing on administrative law, government contracting, contractor responsibility, international law, military personnel law, and a number of other fields. Additionally, the attorneys and other summer law clerks in the General Counsel’s office are fantastic to work with.
 
One of the greatest benefits of working in this office is its physical location inside the Pentagon. It can be intimidating at first, with the sheer size of the building and the fact that some 23,000 people work there. With its different floors, rings, corridors,  and office numbers, it’s easy to feel like a mouse looking for cheese at the end of the proverbial maze. It really is like a little city within a city. Need something to eat? There are lots of dining options at the Pentagon (including an outdoor café where the “most dangerous hot dog stand in the world” stood during the Cold War). Need to go to CVS? No problem, there’s one there. Shoe shine, doctor, bank, florist, barber, gym, gift shop? All available here.
 
Something that takes some getting used to is seeing all of the brass as you walk the halls of the building. Outside the Pentagon, it’s not common to see a 3 or 4 star general when you are out and about. Inside the building is quite a different story. Overall, the place is as impressive as it is massive. If you ever have the opportunity to tour the building, do so. The Pentagon Memorial is a must see for any American, as it provides an opportunity to reflect on the events of 9/11.
 
We have had the opportunity to tour the Supreme Court, the Capitol, Andrews Air Force Base, visit the GAO, and attend meetings and panel discussions off-site. I’ve really enjoyed being in the D.C. area this summer. It’s hard to summarize an entire summer in just a short blog, but so far everything has been outstanding.
 
Lastly, I encourage anyone with family or friends who are in the military, or who previously served, to take time out to thank them for their service to our country. Their dedication, commitment, and sacrifice ensure our continued freedom.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

No Typical Day in the Life

Lindsey Brown, a rising 3L from Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, is working for a private law firm's White Collar group in Washington, DC.

There is no typical day in the life of a summer associate.  From researching class-action arbitration issues associated with an upcoming brief in the Supreme Court, to assisting on a case allegedly involving political corruption, my work has been both challenging and fulfilling.  

My first assignment was to research and write a memorandum addressing various issues that may arise in an upcoming sentencing hearing.  Specifically, I was asked to consider whether the language of the plea agreement, as currently written, obligates the government to file a substantial assistance motion.  Additionally, the memorandum put forth the limitations associated with calling as a witness a prosecutor who is no longer assigned to the case.   Because I was able to apply the abstract knowledge that I learned in Professor Luna's Criminal Procedure class to a real-life fact pattern, this assignment proved particularly interesting.

Although researching and writing are typical summer associate assignments, I have been exposed to a broad spectrum of work.   For example, what started as a fairly routine assignment of note taking on a conference call, turned into an opportunity to draft a series of letters sent to a corporation's General Counsel, to opposing counsel, and to the Department of Justice.  Although in a support role, I have continued to correspond directly with outside counsel involved in this matter.

In addition to regularly-assigned projects, social events traditionally fill a large part of the summer associate's calendar.  This summer has been no exception.  Undoubtedly, the most interesting social event that I attended thus far was the Burton Awards.   A partner in the white-collar group was being honored for excellence in legal writing.  Held at the Library of Congress, this black-tie event was attended by many of the country's legal giants.   In fact, at this event, I had the privilege of meeting Justice Scalia. 

Living in Washington, DC completes my summer experience.   Washington has something for everyone, but is particularly well suited for those in the legal profession.  Just yesterday, for example, the firm encouraged all of the summer associates to attend the event “Sizing up the 2008-09 Supreme Court Term.”  At this event, practitioners who argued at least one case in the 2008-09 term, spoke on topics varying from the nomination of Judge Sotomayor to the Court's recent decision in the New Haven firefighters case.   The ease with which one can attend such an event is possible only in a city like Washington.

Thus far, my summer experience has been overwhelmingly positive and I look forward to further posting about life as a summer associate.  Lastly, as an aside, may Michael Joseph Jackson rest in peace.
 

Monday, July 06, 2009

A Third World in the First World

Kathy Pritts, a rising 2L from Oakland, MD, is interning with Advocates for Basic Legal Equality (ABLE), Inc., a non-profit law firm in Ohio.

My first six weeks of work with Advocates for Basic Legal Equality (ABLE) have been both eye-opening and saddening. Many of Ohio’s migrant farmworkers – nearly all of whom are Hispanic – travel thousands of miles for the opportunity to perform backbreaking labor. When they finally arrive at their worksite, they often are not given the hours or wages which they were promised. Once in the fields, many crewleaders refuse to provide portable toilets or cool drinking water, resulting in many health problems for the workers. They are also at a high risk for pesticide-related illnesses and heat stroke.

The workers live in over-crowded, dilapidated housing. Bedbug infestations are common, and trash is often scattered throughout the camps. Indoor bathrooms are a luxury – rudimentary outhouses are the norm. With rising summer temperatures, these facilities become more and more noxious.

A significant barrier to our work is that, despite these labor and housing violations, many people are afraid to complain about the conditions in which they work and live. Many do not have immigration documents, and fear arrest or deportation. They are often targeted by the police, and have described many incidents of racial profiling.

Section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act allows the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to enter into agreements with state and local law enforcement, permitting these law enforcement agencies to enforce immigration law. This controversial provision has been used in Butler County, Ohio, where the sheriff’s office has been given the authority to detain undocumented persons and put them into removal proceedings. This has heightened the already-existing fear present among immigrant communities, making them even less likely to complain of unfair treatment.

My most recent assignment involved co-writing a memo proposing changes to Ohio legislation regulating the housing provided to migrant farmworkers. It was somewhat unreal to suggest changes requiring what most would consider to be extremely basic sanitation and safety provisions. In one of the wealthiest countries in the world, it is deeply saddening that so many people work and live in such wretched conditions, surrounded by hostility and racism within the surrounding communities.

However, it is comforting to know that there are those who have dedicated their careers to serving this often-forgotten group of people. I am humbled by the dedication of the legal advocates with whom I work, and I hope that I too will have the opportunity to use my education to give a voice to the voiceless.
 

Thursday, July 02, 2009

On the Trail of a Multi-million Dollar Scam

James Collins is a rising 3L. He is interning with with the Antitrust Section at the Ohio Attorney General's office.


 

I was staring out a window from the 23rd floor, admiring the highway as it cut through the Columbus suburbs, when a stack of papers hit my desk.  It was the complaint for what had become Ohio’s largest antitrust case ever. Today was the first day on the job, but the office needed everyone up to speed as soon as possible. Flipping through the first few pages, I uncapped a pen and began to make notations—trusting that I'd find my footing sooner rather than later.
 
The same highway is peeling away now as we head south to Cincinnati. A few weeks in the section and things had gone from possibilities to deadlines. We were piecing together a story of avarice and deceit culled from terabytes of documents, and the trail had taken us to the Ohio-Kentucky border. We were working against time; our office was feeling the pinch of the dragging economy as much as any other.
 
I like to think of life in a dramatic light as the dusk settles in; the long shadows of the skyline make everything more exaggerated. The people I'm investigating remind me of Robert Redford in The Sting, palling around in an attempt to pull the scam of the century. But the drama helps me keep in perspective that this isn't a casebook, it's the theft of millions of dollars from businesses, universities, and the cities that we live in. It's highway robbery in a time when people are shuffling down the streets of my hometown without jobs, shuffling past the shuttered windows and doors of honest businesses.
 
I love what I'm doing. I feel that with every word typed, I'm closer to uncovering the conspiracy. I'm just one intern, but in the antitrust department, I know I can make a difference.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Ground Control to Lindsay Hitz

Lindsay Hitz, a rising 2L from Hershey, PA, is interning with the Office of Chief Counsel (OCC) at NASA Langley Research Center.

Advising rocket scientists and reviewing lunar test simulators are just a few of the fascinating responsibilities held by NASA attorneys. While the day to day activities for members of the Office of Chief Counsel do not always live up to the glamour of these exciting events, I am grateful to have the opportunity to intern for an organization like NASA this summer.

As a Langley Aerospace Research Summer Scholar, I work closely with NASA attorneys, and I have the added perk of attending lectures, taking tours, and learning more about NASA's mission and programs.  After about a month of interning, I have been impressed by all of the different ways that attorneys are involved in the day to day operations of NASA. 

The Office of Chief Counsel is divided into three law teams:  the Business Law Team (BLT), the Human Relations Law Team (HRLT), and the Intellectual Property Law Team (IPLT).  So far, I have had the opportunity to work with attorneys from the BLT and the HRLT. 

The HRLT deals mainly with employment law and ethics law.  A few of my experiences have included researching issues for pending employment litigation, reviewing employment case files, and observing ethics advising sessions with NASA scientists.

My most memorable experience so far has been attending an Institutional Review Board (IRB) meeting with an HRLT attorney.  The IRB is responsible for review, approval, and monitoring of any research involving astronauts and other human subjects.  The role of the IRB is to assure that research is conducted in an ethical and safe manner, and all NASA IRB's are required to have at least one attorney for legal expertise.

I accompanied the board to review a recently constructed lunar test simulator.  The quality of the simulator was impressive, and I found it even more interesting to see the role that attorneys can play in assuring that science is safe.  The various safety questions that the members asked were important and issues that I wouldn't automatically consider.

After the meeting, I had the additional opportunity to tour a flight simulator.   We were able to stand in the simulator while researchers conducted a test flight.  It was a fun experience, and I started to better understand why members of the board had asked certain questions about potential problems with dizziness.  I had never experienced that feeling of movement in a stationary object before, but I began to understand how it could be a potential safety issue.  So far, I am enjoying the opportunity to learn more about the law while also experiencing some of the wonderful things that NASA has to offer.