2009 Archive

Top UC Law Schools Launch Collaborative Field Placement Program in Washington, D.C.

By Andrew Cohen

Less than a month after landing in Washington, D.C., Dyanna Quizon ’10 realized the new UCDC Law Program would soar well past her lofty expectations.

“The level of responsibility we’ve been given is amazing,” says Quizon, who works for the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division and is one of seven Berkeley Law students participating in fulltime placements. “Just two weeks in, I was asked to help lead a substantive training session for around 75 federal employees on making programs more accessible to non-English speaking communities. A law student telling government officials what to do in important situations? Pretty incredible.”

A collaborative effort among the law schools at UC Berkeley and UCLA, the D.C. field placement program immerses 2Ls and 3Ls in legal theory, doctrine, and practice in real-world settings. UC Irvine law students will eventually join their peers in this full-semester academic program, where students work in offices of Senators and members of Congress, Senate and House committees, national nonprofit advocacy organizations, the U.S. Department of Justice, and regulatory agencies.

Berkeley Law professor and former Associate Dean Howard Shelanski played a pivotal role in the program’s creation, exploring its viability in Washington and securing commitments for facilities and placements.

“The UC system as a whole was really supportive,” Shelanski says. “I’m extremely pleased at how the program has taken shape and that it seems to be meeting our hopes.”

In addition to their fulltime placements, students take part in a weekly seminar that examines the unique role of attorneys in creating federal legislation. Students learn about lawyering from multiple perspectives and hear guest lectures from senior counsel at the U.S. State and Treasury Departments, top Senate Committee staff, leading advocacy/nonprofit executive directors, major lobbyists, reporters from NPR and the Washington Post, and other influential policy makers.

“It’s an unparalleled opportunity for students to see first-hand how statutes, regulations, and policies are made, changed, and understood,” says program director Karen Lash. “They’ll also be exposed to a range of career choices that are unique to Washington, D.C.” 

For Brian Israel ’09, the program is a natural and timely fit.  He’s working in the Human Rights and Refugees Division of the U.S. Department of State’s Office of the Legal Adviser. With a background in international law, he is realizing a longtime career aspiration.

“Without this program, being here would’ve required an extra semester,” says Israel, co-editor of the Berkeley Journal of International Law. “Instead, I’m earning credits here and finishing on time, which is a huge benefit.”

Israel says the attorneys in his office are “extremely generous” with their time, and have involved him in advocacy before a human rights commission, advising a State Department bureau on a statutory mandate, and work on pending human rights treaties.

“I think practical training is the most important and most neglected aspect of legal education,” says Israel. “Berkeley Law is really pushing to expand those opportunities for students, and this program is a perfect example. It makes for a more complete and valuable law school experience.”

Breaking new ground

Every year, hundreds of UC undergraduates take part in the UCDC program at the University of California Washington Center. But this marks the first graduate or professional school involvement, allowing Berkeley Law to join just a handful of American law schools with full semester programs in Washington.

“This program is unique in its effort to bring students’ varied workplace experiences into the classroom,” says Lash. “Our seminar plays a key role in exploring different ways to use a law degree, and learning about federal lawmaking and the range of players and influences involved in that process. It also gives students a taste of the entire law-making and law-changing process beyond the singular immersion they get in their workplace.”

The students attended an eye-opening presentation by Walter Oleszek—who trains new senators and members of Congress on how bills become law—and Berkeley Law library Associate Director Michael Levy conducted a Webinar presentation on legislative and regulatory research. NPR senior legal correspondent Nina Totenberg is another upcoming speaker.

In addition to Quizon and Israel, Berkeley Law members of the inaugural UCDC Law Program include Eleanor Blume ’10 (House Committee on Financial Services), Eric Fong ’09 (Senator Barbara Boxer's office); Aaron Gershbock ’09 (Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Terrorism, Technology, and Homeland Security), Samuel Houshower ’10 (International Affairs Office of the General Counsel, U.S. Department of the Treasury), and Henry Stern ’09 (House Energy and Commerce Committee).

As the program grows, Lash is looking for opportunities where students could work seven weeks at one placement and seven weeks at another, “so they could really see the different parts of the policy making continuum and where the intervention points are.”

But even just one month into the program’s first semester, there seem to be very few growing pains.

“It’s been valuable on so many levels,” says Quizon. “Being in Washington during the transition of a new administration, learning about the importance of networking, and just seeing first-hand how much impact lawyers have in shaping how the federal government operates. I’m applying legal theories of discrimination I learned in class to real-life situations, and that’s the best possible training for future lawyers.”

Berkeley Law students interesting in starting the application and placement process should contact field placement director Sue Schechter at sschechter@law.berkeley.edu or 510-643-7387.

“Launching a program of this size is no small feat and Sue really moved mountains to help get that done,” says Lash. “It’s not in her nature to take credit, but this program wouldn’t exist without her tireless hard work.”