Internships allow students to gain practical experience

Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Lisa Bressman clerked for Justice Breyer during his first term, and the two have remained in touch since.

Sue Kay

Each year, more than 100 Vanderbilt Law students serve internships to gain legal experience. While some internships are paid, most are not. Students serving in unpaid internships may earn course credit, as did 94 Vanderbilt Law students during summer 2010. Some receive funding through one of four different stipend programs available to help defray the living expenses of students who accept public interest internships; during summer 2010, a total of 82 students received funding from these programs.

More than 150 students served as legal interns during summer 2010. Here are four of their stories.

Erica Evans '12

Office of Legislative Affairs
Department of Justice, Washington, D.C.
Erica Evans

As one of only two interns in the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Legislative Affairs, Erica Evans found herself dealing with a variety of legal issues ranging from the impeachment trial of a state district court judge who had accepted bribes to maritime law to terrorism. "I worked on discovery motions and briefs, and learned a lot about ethical violations in the legal profession, what it means to be a lawyer, and what it means to actually see justice done through working on the impeachment trial," she said. "I enjoyed using my legal education in practical matters that allowed me to actually see the functioning of our justice system through the eyes and ears of our government."

She also saw Michelle Obama speak, met with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, and attended the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan. "My boss was integral in helping Justice Kagan before and during the hearings," Evans said. "She thanked us personally for the help we gave her."

Evans received a summer stipend funded by the law school to enable students to serve in unpaid positions with government agencies. "That stipend covered my rent, and I was extremely grateful for it," Evans said. "Washington is an expensive place to live."

Seeing First Lady Michelle Obama speak was especially meaningful for Evans. "She said that lawyers have the ability to turn words on pages into justice in the world," she said. "That reminded me why I want to become a lawyer."

Cara Walsh '11

International Bar Association, London
Cara Walsh

As an intern at the International Bar Association (IBA) in London during fall 2010, Cara Walsh spent much of the semester researching human rights issues. In November, when a last-minute cancellation by an attendee opened up a space at the Salzburg Global Seminar on "Islamic and International Law: Searching for Common Ground" in Salzburg, Austria, IBA Executive Director Mark Ellis invited her to attend.

The November session was the second of two sessions in which legal scholars, international attorneys, diplomats and human rights advocates discussed areas of common ground between Islamic law and international law. "There were five sessions in which Islamic scholars and officials, and attorneys and scholars and human rights advocates from around the world discussed the ways in which both Islamic and international law addressed issues such as gender equality, protection of minority rights and freedom of speech," Walsh said. "One purpose was to examine the flexibility in both legal traditions and identify where they interact and how they coexist. For me, the entire week was marked by hearing a lot of voices within the Islamic tradition debating exactly what constitutes Islamic law. That was the most fascinating aspect of the entire conference for me—learning more about the internal debate within the Islamic legal community."

Walsh recalls being particularly struck by the presentation of Zainah Anwar, director of Musawah, an organization that advocates for "Global Movement for Equality and Justice in the Muslim Family." Walsh majored in journalism at Northwestern University and worked as a journalist for a short time before starting law school, and she relished the opportunity to gain insights into the foundations of Islamic law. "Zainah Anwar talked about how it is possible to examine Islamic law in a way that is beneficial to women," Walsh said. "She had a quiet confidence about her, and I found her really inspirational."

John Williams '12

U.S. Attorney's Office
Albuquerque, New Mexico
John Williams

John Williams was one of 94 Vanderbilt Law students who served an internship for credit during summer 2010. Williams worked at the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of New Mexico in Albuquerque, where he was put to work in the Narcotics Section and found a mentor in Steve Kotz '84, a career Assistant U.S. Attorney who specializes in dealing with property forfeiture cases. "The government can lawfully seize any property used to perpetrate a drug crime," Williams said. He recalls enjoying the opportunities to "do a lot of research on areas of law I'd never been exposed to before," including drafting a response to challenges from two claimants after a Drug Enforcement Agent seized an unregistered plane used to transport illegal narcotics. Williams also had an opportunity to work with an attorney who specialized in wiretaps.

In his quest to spend the summer working in a U.S. Attorney's Office, Williams "sprayed the country with resumes," applying to offices in a number of states where he thought the caseload would be interesting. "I wanted to explore public law," he said. "I was quite excited that the Albuquerque Office accepted me and put me in Narcotics. There is a robust drug trade in New Mexico, which means there was no lack of interesting cases."

Noah Coakley '12

No Peace Without Justice
Belgium and Uganda
Noah Coakley

Noah Coakley spent summer 2010 in Belgium and Uganda working for No Peace Without Justice, an international non-profit advocacy organization based in Rome, Italy. Coakley was slated to work with the organization's International Criminal Justice Program, based in Brussels, Belgium, which focuses on efforts to restore the rule of law and provide accountability and redress for victims of crimes under international laws. "My job was to help the organization prepare for the International Criminal Court Review Conference held in Kampala, Uganda," Coakley said, "but they asked me to fly to Uganda for three weeks and help with their conference activities."

Coakley served as one of the organization's reporters for the conference, which extended from May 31 through June 11 and attracted approximately 4,600 representatives from member countries and inter-governmental and non-government organizations. He also helped organize an unofficial opening event sponsored by No Peace Without Justice: a soccer match featuring a team headed by United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. "The first time I saw the Secretary General, he was walking around in cleats and a blue soccer uniform," Coakley said. "The soccer match was an important event because it promoted the International Criminal Court's presence in Uganda to the Ugandan people."

Although the United State is not a member of the International Criminal Court, Harold Koh, who serves as Legal Advisor to the U.S. State Department, led a delegation to the conference, which had an important purpose: to amend the Rome Statute, the treaty that established the International Criminal Court, to include the crime of aggression, and to establish the conditions under which the ICC could exercise jurisdiction with respect to the crime. In addition to offering legal assistance to governments seeking to draft legislation protecting human rights and join international human rights initiatives such as the ICC, No Peace Without Justice seeks to ensure that victims of human rights abuses have a voice in national and international criminal justice proceedings.

Coakley credits his experience working in both Belgium and Uganda with helping him garner a semester externship with Office of U.N. Political Affairs with the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., for spring 2011. "What I'll be working on depends on what happens before the United Nations Security Council," he said, "but the understanding of the ICC and how international cooperation works I gained from working with No Peace Without Justice and in the International Law Practice Lab will be really helpful."

He also credits his work on the editorial staff of the Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law and a course he took from Professor Ingrid Wuerth, International Protection of Human Rights, with "exponentially increasing my knowledge on international legal issues."

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