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What I Did This Summer: Students Describe Their On-Job Training

 By Andrew Cohen

For most students, summer is a time to relax, unwind, and power down the cranial machinery. But for law students, it’s a time to fire up their synapses, build their legal knowledge, and shape their professional paths.

Here are four Berkeley Law students whose varied summer experiences have empowered their career aspirations.

A voice for prisoners’ rights

Britt HarwoodWorking for Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld, a small civil rights firm in San Francisco, Britt Harwood ’14 has an ideal outlet for her interest in criminal justice reform. The firm is a key player in California prison litigation amid the ongoing realignment of correctional oversight from the state to counties

“We defend prisoners’ constitutional rights and bring class actions that seek systemic change,” said Harwood, who externed last semester with the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office. “It’s particularly rewarding to advocate for the humane treatment of mentally ill inmates. It’s also an important time to make sure that hard-fought rights aren’t lost under the new system.”

Harwood was inspired to apply for the position after reading Brown v. Plata—which her firm co-litigated—at Berkeley Law. The 2011 U.S. Supreme Court case found that the medical and mental health care provided in California prisons were constitutionally inadequate, and upheld a remedial order that the state reduce its prisoner population. Harwood has prepared research memos on civil rights issues, First Amendment law, city ordinances, and employment law. She also interviewed inmates and took declarations to further class action litigation.

“Actual client contact has been my favorite part of the experience,” Harwood said. “I’m drawn to this work because prisoners are at such a disadvantage in terms of advocating for their own rights. It’s also a basic human rights issue. We’re collectively responsible for the way our prison system treats fellow human beings.”

Intrigued by innovation 

Michael LeaserBusiness law enthusiast Michael Leaser ’14 is the only U.S. legal intern working this summer for Metaswitch Networks, a UK-based company that provides telecommunications software.

“It’s an innovative software company that gave me a great chance to get in-house exposure,” said Leaser, who assists MetaSwitch lawyers on matters ranging from employment law to contracts to intellectual property. “Things are always changing in our business, which makes it exciting. It would’ve been smart of me to take an IP class last year, but I’m learning on the fly.”

Leaser worked for John Hancock before coming to Berkeley Law, helping the company with compliance issues and supporting its advanced planning group. He is on track to earn a business law certificate in May—a path his MetaSwitch work has reaffirmed.

“Working in-house has been really fun and being here definitely strengthened my interest in business law,” Leaser said. “Balancing business priorities and legal concerns is important to every company, and it’s been gratifying to acquire new skills that I can use down the road.”

Housing in Hawaii

Elena PachecoFor Elena Pacheco ’15, the allure of spending a summer in Hawaii was different than you might expect. “I thought the issues I was interested in—affordable housing, land use, environmental conservation—would be particularly acute here given the limited resources available to an island,” she said. “I did a lot of online research and found a great opportunity.”

Working at the Hawaii Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice, Pacheco has built on experience she gained last year at Berkeley Law’s Tenants’ Rights Workshop. With a background in urban planning, she was able to dive in on substantive projects and draft housing-related policy briefs.

“My supervising attorney used them to help educate busy politicians about the burdens facing Hawaii’s neediest groups,” Pacheco said. “They largely focused on legislative history and housing policies implemented elsewhere in the country.”

While the content of her work has fueled a commitment to public interest law, so have her co-workers. “My bosses are so passionate about their work and the people they’re helping,” Pacheco said. “I’ll be co-directing a couple of (Student-Initiated Legal Services Projects) this year, and hope to foster the same combination of passion and work ethic I’ve seen here this summer.”

Due diligence

Casey HultinIt didn’t take long for Casey Hultin ’14 to grasp the importance of thorough research—both in her legal studies and her budding career. She worked at Irell & Manella in Los Angeles after her first year of law school, and then spent 10 weeks this summer at Latham & Watkins before returning to Irell for two weeks before school starts.

“I threw my full energy into landing a 1L firm job,” said Hultin, who sent letters to 95 firms. “But it still took some good fortune. I was an alternate for an interview with Irell, and got a slot when a friend canceled his interview after accepting another summer offer. It’s one of the luckiest things that happened to me.”

A litigation associate, Hultin said exposure to the cultures and working atmospheres at different firms has been “extremely valuable.” She praised the summer programs and hands-on mentoring at both Irell and Latham, noting that mid-summer reviews at each firm accelerated her progress.

“They recognize that it’s a learning process for students, and they want to see how well you handle constructive criticism and how quickly you can fix your mistakes,” Hultin said. “My assignments have covered patent litigation, healthcare matters, even nuclear energy litigation…it’s been a great mix of practice areas and a real positive to gain that experience at two firms.”