My Externship Experience at the Institute of Museum and Library Services

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With a background in the arts, I knew that I wanted my legal career to have an impact on that area. When I discovered the legal internship program at the Office of General Counsel at the Institute of Museum and Library Services, I was instantly drawn to the prospect of working in-house for an institute that promotes the arts and humanities.  

The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) is an independent agency of the U.S. government that supports U.S. libraries and museums through grantmaking, research, and policy. I externed in the Institute’s Office of General Counsel, which provides legal advice to the IMLS Director and staff. The General Counsel’s office handles issues in various areas of the law including administrative law, federal grants law, and appropriations law.

As an extern, I conducted legal research, wrote memoranda, drafted responses to FOIA requests, updated the list of copyright-related grants, drafted the minutes for the board of directors meeting, and assisted the members of the office with other tasks. Reading through the board of directors meeting to take minutes was very exciting for me because I was curious about the content and format of these meetings. I took nonprofits law and business law this fall semester and so I was able to relate the meeting to my courses and to better understand the duties of directors.

One of my favorite assignments was working under the guidance of the Deputy General Counsel to research and write a memorandum on the allowability of American Rescue Plan Act funds in relation to a state library grant. The assignment was both interesting and educational. Consulting with the Deputy General Counsel throughout the process and having both he and the General Counsel read over my writing and provide feedback, was incredibly helpful in improving my legal research and writing skills. I also really enjoyed this assignment because it was one of the many instances where I was able to see the sort of legal questions that arise within the IMLS and how the agency works to solve them.

I was also allowed the opportunity to sit in on IMLS team meetings and various inter-agency and general counsel meetings. These meetings were a great way to gain insight into the legal work done at other agencies, to gain insight into various agency issues, and to learn about new topics such as the Fair Information Practice Principles (FIPPS). It was fascinating to see the dynamic within the IMLS, as well as the dynamic between other federal agencies and general counsels.

From my discussions with practicing attorneys, it seems as though most general counsel offices require some years of prior legal experience beforehand so it was an invaluable experience to be able to see what working in-house for such an agency entails, as a law student. Thus far into my law school journey, externing for the IMLS has been one of my favorite experiences. I highly recommend students who are considering working in-house in the future to intern or extern while in law school, especially at the IMLS.