Law student got a 'first-hand' view of politics in D.C.


Law student Ben VanBarr met  Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) (center) while working in D.C. last summer. He also met Sen. Bernie Sanders and several other well-known politicians.

Photo courtesy of Anna Kozak

By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Law student Ben VanBarr spent last summer as a Levin intern with the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations in D.C., with work primarily involving investigations into government agency actions.

He contributed to drafting hearing memos and questions lines for members to refer to during hearings.

“Most of my work involved researching the actions we were investigating, background information on the topics involved, and witnesses testifying before the committee,” he says.

“I really enjoyed having a first-hand view of the politics we see on TV – real life is somehow both better and worse than what the news portrays.

“I was surprised and grateful to have such a friendly and supportive team to work with—I’d expected a more high-pressure, cutthroat environment.”

In addition to committee members Diana DeGette and Joe Kennedy, VanBarr met U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, as well as three out of four members of the politicians known as “The Squad”—Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

VanBarr has long been focused on public interest work. After earning his undergrad degree in political science at the University of Michigan-Flint, he worked for a couple of nonprofits that aligned with his focus on this area.

“Although the work was very rewarding, I came to feel I wasn’t contributing at my highest potential and that I could make a more significant impact as a lawyer,” he says.

So he headed to Wayne State University Law School, where he is in his 2L year, and has been involved in the ACLU Student Chapter and Keith Students for Civil Rights.

VanBarr was a lead organizer for the law school’s “(S)exploiting the Vulnerable” conference, held last year. Until last April, he was also employed at a local nonprofit, Alternatives For Girls, and a member of the Joint Anti-Trafficking Taskforce, and was directly involved with many of the most active organizations doing anti-trafficking work in Southeast Michigan.

“My experiences and connections there allowed me to contribute significantly to organizing the conference,” he says. “The Dean’s Office has given me permission to lead the conference this year and try to establish it as a recurring event in the Detroit legal community.”

While VanBarr’s primary background and passion was combatting human trafficking and advocating for trafficking victims,  he is taking advantage of the opportunity to explore other interests.

“I know the general direction I want to go,” he says. “It’s important to me that I feel like I’m playing for the ‘good guy.’ I can most easily see myself as a prosecutor or investigator in certain areas, a public interest or civil rights litigator, or working to improve policies and infrastructures that create barriers for people.”

VanBarr, who recently completed an externship with Judge Bernard Friedman at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, also is exploring opportunities at Wayne Law’s Asylum and Immigration Law Clinic, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the state Attorney General’s Office, and the ACLU of Michigan.


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