Before Emily Lohman JD’19 externed with U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski JD’85, R-Alaska, she expected to observe the legislative process — not draft legislation herself.
But amid a whirlwind semester this year of lengthy research and repeated consultation with a senate committee in Washington, D.C., Lohman achieved a personal goal: She drafted language within four bills, two of which were introduced.
She also created a resolution recognizing the culture and contribution of indigenous women that was introduced in March for National Women’s History Month. “It all started with a blank sheet of paper,” she says. “I really got to draft something that’s going to be on congressional record.”
This kind of experience can’t be replicated in a classroom. That’s why 40-45 percent of upper-division students take advantage of externships each year, working everywhere from nonprofit organizations to public defense firms.
With dozens of pre-approved externships available through the College of Law and more available through personal connections, Director of Externships Theresa Wright JD’81, says students can really tailor their externship to their interest. They’re also often better prepared for the work than they thought.
“When students observe lawyers in the court system, they find they can probably provide equivalent representation to the client,” she says. “They realize the practical skills they’ve learned in law school are pretty close to a professional level already.”
Lohman says she chose Willamette in the first place because of its “close proximity to state agencies and its connections to the local government.”
She says, “I don’t know if I’d have opportunities like the externship without the incredible mentorship and legwork of the law school.”
She seized the rare opportunity to extern at the Senate. Through Law Dean Curtis Bridgeman, she learned Murkowski occasionally takes interns throughout the year. Public service had long interested Lohman, but with no exposure to civic duty growing up, she had questions — How is legislation created? Why is it so hard to pass a bill? — that could be answered by spending time at the nation’s capital.
“The Senate and Capitol Hill were such a huge mystery,” she says. “I wanted to pull back the curtains to see what was going on and be in the room where decisions are being made.”
Sometimes, classwork alone can lead to the externship. Taylor VanScoy JD’18 wrote a paper for Dean Emeritus Symeon Symeonides that led her to the U.S. Department of Justice’s Constitutional & Specialized Tort Litigation Section in Washington D.C., which represents federal employees sued in their personal capacities.
As most of the cases this section handles are brought under the cause of action in Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics — a landmark 1970s Supreme Court case that afforded people the right to sue federal officials for alleged violations of constitutional rights — the section is nicknamed the “Bivens branch.” VanScoy’s critical analysis of a fatal shooting case that involved a Bivens action made her well-qualified for the externship — and its sole extern in spring 2018.
VanScoy worked closely with attorneys on motions to dismiss, helped interview expert witnesses and contributed to a reply to a magistrate judge’s order that denied disqualification of opposing counsel. She even evaluated representation requests, an exclusive opportunity for an extern to write memoranda recommending whether the government should represent the individual.
Although Lohman and VanScoy were externs, staff respected them as equals. When VanScoy composed objections to a judge’s order denying disqualification to a federal employee, she crafted an argument new to the other attorneys.
“They used it in their objections and even copied and pasted portions of what I’d drafted,” she says. “My opinions and suggestions were truly valued and considered — they really treated me like part of the team.”
Lohman felt the same way in Murkowski’s office. From the moment she began working for the senator, Lohman attended back-to-back meetings on topics ranging from the national budget to a legal memo on obstruction of justice. One day, she spent 12 hours with the senator, trailing her from one policy meeting to the next, then to a March of Dimes fundraiser that evening.
Externships can be eye-opening. VanScoy knew through her own research Bivens attorneys represented law enforcement officials, but she hadn’t realized the scope of federal employees who faced personal capacity lawsuits — prison wardens, Transportation Security Administration agents, even neighborhood mailmen. She also learned a lot about new-to-her areas of prison litigation and defending prisoner lawsuits.
Lohman was surprised by the difference between the reality of legislative work versus the political grandstanding portrayed in the media.
“There are a lot of people who work very hard to try and get something done that pleases everyone and meets needs across the country, which is a hard thing to do,” she says. “They face constant roadblocks and challenges but still get up the next day and do it all over again.”
Externship experience often parlays into postgraduate employment for students. VanScoy plans to stay in the D.C. area and pursue jobs in constitutional law. Eventually, she wants to work for the Bivens branch because she loved her time there as an extern.
“Fitting in with the culture of the work environment is just as important as loving what you do,” she says. “I was fortunate enough to experience both.”
Lohman felt her externship answered all of her questions, including her biggest one: Could she see herself doing that work?
After Lohman graduates from Willamette, she plans to attend city council and urban renewal meetings in Salem to learn about policy issues affecting her local community. She spent the past summer as a law clerk for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Oregon and will continue to do so this year.
Someday, she might even run for a city council position or the House of Representatives — a concept that’s one step closer to reality because of her externship.
“So many people told me, ‘Wait until you see Capitol Hill, you’re going to be so jaded,’” she says. “It wasn’t like that for me at all. I only felt encouraged, inspired and motivated to do more.”
To learn more about hosting a Willamette Law student as an extern, contact Theresa Wright, director of externships, at 503-375-5431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was originally published in the 2018 issue of Willamette Lawyer magazine.
About Willamette University College of Law
As the first law school in the Pacific Northwest, Willamette University College of Law boasts an innovative program designed to prepare leaders in government, private practice, and business with the lawyering skills needed in the 21st Century. Willamette Law’s small class sizes foster an interactive learning environment among our diverse student population with a thriving externship and clinical program, ample practical skills courses, and a new Business Lawyering Institute. With a “one student at a time” placement approach, our students are given individualized development plans and tools for success in today's legal job market. In recent years, outside industry watchers such as Moody’s and The National Jurist Magazine have recognized Willamette Law for its positive job placement results. Willamette lawyers are the best dealmakers, problem solvers, community leaders, and change-makers in the most innovative and exciting region in the country. Our location — nestled in the heart of the Willamette Valley and across the street from the Oregon State Capitol, Supreme Court and many state agencies — is an advantage that cannot be matched anywhere in the region.