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Externship Alumni

Blake JohnsonBlake Johnson '12

U.S. Department of Justice-Civil Rights Division, Washington, D.C.

My Semester in Practice at the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division D.C. was nothing less than unforgettable. Semester in Practice was my opportunity to test drive the skills and practice learned at VLS, and I was happy to discover I could drive pretty well. Through mentors and staff attorneys in the Federal Coordination and Compliance Section, I researched important questions of law, attending meetings to decide on litigation and investigation strategy, and traveled to multiple states investigating claims of civil rights abuses. For the first time, I saw the country through the eyes of the people who civil rights are meant to protect and the law that makes it possible. I ran at the National Mall in the evening and often finished up my work at night. By the end of the semester, attorneys asked my opinion on constitutional and civil rights issues. I had the background and confidence to answer difficult questions. I was asked the legal, policy, and political ramifications of different strategies, and loved it. When it came time to return to Vermont, my Section Chief asked me what experience was most memorable through the semester. One stood out. On a trip across the country, in a dusty legal aid office, I had sat interviewing an elderly victim. Her story touched me in a way I could never forget. Despite our age difference, cultural differences, and the sting of her stories of repeated, severe, personal abuse, her gratitude for our work was humbly unmistakable. I reached out and held her hand. Through the interpreter, she told us that we were like a warm blanket on her shoulders, and implored us to make sure this doesn't happen again to anyone else. Then I knew that justice is gained by this kind of hard work. I am grateful to my mentors, professors, and VLS for the opportunity to spend the semester in practice, traveling, learning, and experiencing the richness and sincerity of work in the law. I recommend anyone make experiential practice part of their legal education.

Allie Silverman '12

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency-Office of International and Tribal Affairs, Washington, D.C.

Everything about my Semester in Practice (SiP) was worthwhile and time well spent. From first figuring out exactly where and what my SiP would be and who would supervise me, to then throwing myself at the experience, applying legal skills into areas of practice that I knew I wanted to engage in upon graduation. I saw my SiP as an opportunity to try out working in the government because most of my professional experience had been in the nonprofit sector. I wanted an experience that I had never had before and I was curious about how I could apply my skills in and passions for environmental sustainability and justice.

Ultimately, I landed at the EPA's Office of International and Tribal Affairs. I was placed in a small team and charged to do work both for a political appointee on a project related to water access and health along the U.S.-Mexico Border, and for EPA staff on initiatives related to various international environmental treatieses between the U.S., Mexico, and Canada. Throughout my SiP, I became more aware and well versed in how to use the law to add value and to provide alternative solutions. Although I was not writing legal memos, litigating, clerking, or practicing more "conventional" law, I was indeed working with the law. My SiP experience further reminded me that there are many different types of lawyers with a variety of job responsibilities and duties. Moreover, this experience taught me the power as well as the inherent limitations of the law to affect change.

I went to law school to hone my powers of persuasion and analytical aptitude as well as to gain specialized legal knowledge.  My SiP greatly supported my goals. I learned some of the best lessons of my law school career. In addition, throughout my SiP, I was given the opportunity to reflect on law school, where I want it to take me, and how my class work thus far had trained me for my SiP experience and for my career moving forward.