Internships a cornerstone of MLaw experience

By Jordan Poll
U-M Law

With her mother a wildlife rehabilitator and her stepfather a member of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at the Alligator Wildlife Refuge in North Carolina, 3L Hallie Lipsey applied to University of Michigan Law School with the intention of pursuing a career in environmental law.

“I grew up with the forest as my home. It is close to heart, and something I want to continue to protect through work like I did this summer,” said Lipsey, who interned at the Southern Environmental Law Center in Charlottesville, Virginia, which prepared her for litigation and policy work.

She researched topics ranging from offshore drilling and solar power in Virginia to biochar in Southeastern forests and the protection of the Atlantic sturgeon.

“But my internship the summer before with Guilford County Public Defender’s Office in Greensboro, North Carolina, altered my future plans slightly,” Lipsey said. “It turns out that I like people and trees. Both paths are fulfilling, so now I’m considered marrying the two into a career in environmental justice.”

Summer internships are a cornerstone of the Michigan Law experience, providing opportunities for students like Lipsey to explore their interests in a variety of legal practice settings outside of the Law School.

“They are formative experiences that can give students insights across a number of dimensions. For some, they will discover a practice area or new city that they love (or hate); for others it might be their first job in a professional setting,” said Ramji Kaul, ‘05, assistant dean for career planning.

At the same time, Kaul said, It’s “an opportunity to start building mentoring relationships that may last an entire career.

“We encourage students to be thoughtful about how they spend their summers, but there is no one correct path and the options are nearly infinite.”

During her summer at Rolls-Royce in Indianapolis, Paula McDonald participated in a variety of intellectual property-related processes including patent, non-disclosure, and research agreements with universities.

“It was rewarding to complete my first patent application, taking it from the interview with the inventor to the final submission,” said 2L McDonald, who is considering a specialization in patent prosecution or technology transactions. “I was drawn to this opportunity because I wanted to see what life was like for an in-house attorney early on in my law school career, and learn about how attorneys can help support the latest technology.”

McDonald also was able to observe how Rolls-Royce’s IP group protects intellectual property by working with engineers to review inventions and determine which designs were patentable.

“I’ve learned a lot about new technology for gas turbine engines and what in-house attorneys expect from working with outside counsel,” said McDonald. “I am planning to go to a firm next summer, and the things I’ve learned this summer will definitely impact how I work with in-house counsel in the future.”

Also interested in gaining an in-house perspective is Olivia Wheeling, who spent her 1L summer with Workday’s legal department in Pleasanton, California.

 She researched subjects covering corporate law, public records law, employment law, contracts with suppliers, and the policy side of their legal counsel.

“We hear a lot in law school about how law firms practice,” Wheeling said, “but the equation is different for companies’ legal departments and I wanted to learn more.

“Going in-house at Workday allowed me to learn the business side of law and talk with attorneys who are continually thinking of new ways of doing business and responding to the challenges and opportunities generated by new technologies. It was an in-depth look that I don’t think I would’ve gotten otherwise.”

As someone who came to law school on the fence about the type of law she wanted to practice, Wheeling also appreciated the opportunity to confirm her pull towards litigation work over transactional.

“The first year of law school is so litigation-centric,” she said. “I wasn’t sure if my affinity for litigation over the course of the first year was driven by actual interest or just that I didn’t know what transactional practice looked like.

“When I got to Workday, I signed myself up for anything research and writing related, and I found that I was not as strongly drawn toward the drafting or project management side of things. I really valued having the flexibility to figure all that out this summer.”

3L Luke Wilson travelled the farthest for his summer internship with Legal Aid of Cambodia in Phnom Penh, where he worked with the Child Justice Program.

He provided support for nongovernmental organizations with his legal research on Cambodia’s obligations under domestic and international law regarding child victims of crime and child offenders.

Wilson also researched obligations of civil society organizations hiring foreign workers under Cambodian law and drafted USAID grant applications.

“The work I did advanced human rights objectives in a developing country,” said Wilson, whose biggest project was a grant proposal for a program explaining the media’s free speech rights under Cambodian and international law to journalists working in Cambodia. “I like to think of my experience with Legal Aid of Cambodia as coupled with my externship in Geneva.

“Geneva provided me with the opportunity to work with international institutions like the United Nations Human Rights Council—it offered a view of human rights from 30,000 feet up. Cambodia provided me with the opportunity to do on-the-ground work, which meant a lot.”