As you can imagine, my externship this summer did not start with walking into the office in a suit and taking an ID badge photo. Instead, I received a laptop and a virtual private network token in the mail with instructions on how to set up my Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) technology from home. After a number of false starts on the technology side, my work as a Law Honors intern for the FAA’s labor and employment general counsel office began. From day one I received a variety of assignments including research, advice pieces, and assisting Agency counsel with their ongoing litigation. The majority of the issues handled by the labor and employment division involve Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) cases and Merit Systems Protection Board (MPSB) cases, dealing directly with employees of the Agency who have raised allegations of discrimination or improper discipline.
My previous work experience includes managing the shipping department of an Amazon fulfillment center and working in human resources at BNSF Railway. These previous experiences in labor and employment made this internship particularly appealing to me by providing me with the opportunity to finally see labor and employment from a legal perspective. Further, the opportunity to work at a federal agency and learn about government sector legal work after my 1L year provided me more context for making employment decisions in the future.
One of my most memorable assignments was an advice piece that I began writing during the first week of my internship. The issue was related to the medical certification required by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The client was an employee relations specialist in the human resources department. This assignment gave many topics from law school a practical shape, including legal research and analysis, writing, and translating legal analysis into legal advice. Although I wrote a more traditional memo to provide to my supervisors, this assignment also gave me the chance to apply the law in a practical manner and directly inform human resources of the legal implications of the question. Further, I gave suggestions of how to clarify the language of the human resources manual, which demonstrated how integral legal research can be to the more practical elements of business and government.
Throughout the summer I also had the opportunity to work on open Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) cases. I reviewed the Report of Investigation (ROI), which is a document that the Agency creates based on third-party investigations into employee EEO complaints. Based on the ROI I wrote the discovery requests, and subsequently the Agency’s objections to opposing counsel’s discovery requests. On a separate EEOC case I was able to observe a deposition and assist with writing the facts for a motion for summary judgment. Additionally, I wrote an opposition to an appeal for a Final Agency Decision (FAD), which is a resolution that is available to employees that file EEOC complaints and do not want to go to hearing. The ability to be a hands-on part of each of these cases provided me with experiences that I will be able to use in the future to make educated decisions about the type of law that I want to practice. The process of preparing for each part of the case and planning for deadlines set not just by the judge, but by the attorneys that I was working with, gave me a taste of life as an associate or attorney in the law honors program within the Department of Transportation.
We also had weekly brown bag lunches with the lead of each general counsel department in the FAA, including regulatory, legislation, and airports and environmental. These were extremely valuable hour-long sessions once a week that gave us a chance to learn about the path that the Agency’s leadership took to get to their current positions. It was eye-opening to learn about the process of joining a government agency as legal counsel as opposed to a law firm or corporation. These brown bags were also unique because of the passion that many attorneys had for flight and airplanes prior to joining the Agency. A number of these leaders had their private pilots’ licenses or had prior careers in the Air Force. It was great to observe how many ways there are to incorporate your passions into your law career, and how to balance your personal and work lives.
Finally, I had the opportunity to present to all of the attorneys in the FAA labor and employment division, including those who are stationed throughout the country. I gave a brief presentation on attorney-client privilege and how it relates to employees that are no longer managers or employed by the Agency. This presentation was great practice in presenting a legal matter to attorneys and to answer questions about legal research in a new way that I had not yet had the opportunity to do.
Overall, this internship was a great opportunity to get specific experience in labor and employment law, as well as public sector work. I would recommend it to any law student who is curious about working for the federal government. The people I worked with were wonderful and enthusiastic about educating law students, and I have no doubt that should I have any questions in the future, they will make time to speak with me.