Vanderbilt Lawyer - Volume 37, Number 2

On-the-Job Training

Drue Preissman

Drue Preissman began her 2L year at Vanderbilt with an enviable position: A part-time job working for the U.S. State Department.

After Preissman spent last summer as an intern at the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor in Washington, D.C., she was offered a paid position in State Department's prestigious Student Career Experience Program, in the form of part-time work she can complete during the academic year while remaining a full-time law student. "I'm telecommuting," she explains. "I'm doing research, drafting and editing reports. But if I continue with this program throughout law school, I'll be eligible to apply for State Department positions on a non-competitive basis."

Preissman's career interest is demonstrated by the three international law courses she's taking this semester, including International Protection of Human Rights, Public International Law and the International Law Practice Lab. "I'm interested in the legal framework of human rights policy," she explains, "but I'm also taking Corporations this semester. As the world becomes more globalized, the practice of law in every area is becoming more international."

Preissman earned her undergraduate degree in political science and gender studies at the University of Southern California, and then spent a year working as a grant manager for the Burton G. Bettingen Foundation in Los Angeles, monitoring grants the foundation had made to the Children's Hospital of Los Angeles and the Children's Institute, Inc., before starting law school. Having prior work experience helped her hit the ground running as an intern with the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor during summer 2008. "Last summer was a really interesting time to be working in the bureau's offices because of the elections in Mongolia and Zimbabwe and the tension between Russia and Georgia," she says. Preissman supported a Deputy Assistant Secretary who was monitoring the elections in Zimbabwe by preparing briefing documents, drafting building blocks for speech delivered by President Bush to commemorate Captive Nations Week, and conducting research related to the military conflict in South Ossetia.

Since Professor Michael Newton started the internship program in 2005, more than 80 Vanderbilt law students have spent summers or semesters working for such organizations as the U.S. Mission to the European Union in Brussels; the World Intellectual Property Organization; the cia; the U.S. embassies and consulates in London, Milan, Geneva, New York, The Hague, and Vientiane, Laos; the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in Arusha, Tanzania; the Office of the Prosecutor for the Special Court for Sierra Leone in both The Hague and Freetown, Sierra Leone; the United Nations Food and Agriculture Office in Rome; the aba's Rule of Law Initiative in Baku, Azerbaijan; and various bureaus of the U.S. State Department. "Last summer, our students worked with 22 different international organizations, consulates, government agencies, and ngos in 12 foreign countries and in the United States," said Professor Laurence Helfer. "This is due in large part to the efforts of Mike Newton, who has developed a broad range of placement opportunities for our students."

Many internships are unpaid, and some students benefit from a special stipend program established by Dean Edward L. Rubin that helps defray the costs of overseas travel and provides financial support for living expenses. "These placements afford students an unmatched learning opportunity," Dean Rubin says. "We want to ensure that students who are offered these opportunities can take advantage of them."