Saturday, December 12, 2009

Last Day!

Hello, world.

Thursday was my last day at work. It was quite busy, in fact, as I tried (unsuccessfully) to wrap up my (huge) open project, finish my exit paperwork (successfully), fight off a cold (unsuccessfully), and send off a pile of "Don't email me for the next month, I won't be here!" emails, and fielding those responses. It was a fun day.

Around 1:45 we had a meeting in the conference room with one of the managers (my supervisor's boss, Henry), who thanked us for our service, gave us super cool DOJ OCL mugs (which, ironically, since we're a consumer protection department, had a TON of warning labels all over it), and told us all not to go to law school (classic Henry). My supervisor said that if we finished our open projects we could *gasp* leave early. The other interns were planning to do a happy hour at 5, so we all tried to hold out as long as possible to stay downtown until happy hour. Around 4:30 I walked my exit paperwork over, got it all signed, and (sadly) turned in my badge. Even though I'm coming back next semester, I guess technically by DOJ standards I'm being fired and re-hired, because otherwise I'd owe a TON of sick days after being home for a month, and that's not cool. But I'll have to go through the badge process (and security clearance, it seems) all over again in the Spring. A bit of a nuisance, but it's fine.

My boss looked at us and said, "So, 2 minutes, I'll meet you at the elevator?" That was a bit unexpected... I asked for 5, ran back to my office, cleaned out my desk, went to go throw away some papers, realized I no longer had my badge (so no access to the garbage room), and basically went into panic clean mode. It was fun! I got everything out in 5 minutes, and we got escorted out at 4:45.

And the best part: we were just barely early for happy hour.

Overall, this was a very successful and fun semester at DOJ. I learned a ton, both about myself and the law, and I'm excited to return in the Spring. Until then, my loyal readers, farewell, and happy holidays!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

My trip to Prague/Asking for Things at my Internship

So, my girlfriend has been studying abroad in Prague since September or so. I've always wanted to go to Eastern Europe, and visiting her gave me a great excuse :-). My class schedule is Tuesday-Wednesday, and I intern Monday, Thursday, and Friday. So watch this: I left on Thursday, missed Friday, missed Monday, on Tuesday classes were cancelled and Friday classes met, Wednesday school was closed, Thursday was Thanksgiving, Friday the office was closed, and I came home the following Monday. So, I missed four days of work.

I spoke to my supervisor around my first week of work and got his clearance; he basically said, "It's fine, just keep us informed as we get closer." Two weeks before, I emailed the attorneys that I work with reminding them, the week before I emailed again, and the day I left I stopped by their office. I worked really hard to finish all short-term projects (almost 100% successful, and the only project I couldn't complete was given to me at 5:00 on my last day in the office, it was a 3 hour project, and I had to get back to go to a meeting at AU). But yeah, I learned to just keep everyone informed and don't be afraid to ask my supervisors for days off.

Prague, if you're wondering, was fantastic. It's an incredibly old and beautiful city. We saw all the sights and some of the non-touristy stuff too. I'd love to go back. We also refused to eat at touristy restaurants, so we paid less than $5/person for every meal we ate. Beer is about $1 each (a beer is 20 koruna, the exchange rate is 17:1). But now I'm back at AU, I handed in 2 final papers this week, I have 1 final exam and a final portfolio to turn in, and 1 more week at work. Then I go home for 3 weeks, come back for RA training, and go back to work January 12th!

My next post will be a concluding one after my last day at work and will be a reflection. Until next week!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Meeting with Supervisor

So I had my meeting with my supervisor a week or two ago, and it went really well. Basically she wanted to be sure that I was actually completing my assigned task (finding documents in the database). A few days later, I sat down with her again to do my evaluation form for AU. So I've been getting tons of feedback on my work. Her two complaints that she discussed with me:

That the meeting didn't happen sooner: So, I've been working on this project all semester and I presented my research. Although my research was very good, she said, I didn't organize it properly. Think of LexisNexis or any other database you've used. When you do a search, you just flag the articles you think are interesting. The rest of the articles you don't look at again. But, she told me that the proper way to do it would have been to search for, let's say "Sally Sue." Put every "Sally Sue" hit into a folder. Then search "Sally Sue" and "Joe Blow," and put all of those in a folder. That way if an attorney wanted to look for all the SS and JB articles, they could do it easily, and it didn't fall so severely to what I considered "important." In short, she said that she wished we met earlier so that I could have done that. I went back and corrected it anyway. But, she also noted (thankfully), that it's a two-way street; I didn't call for a meeting early in the semester to get specific directions, but she also didn't ask for one. So it definitely goes both ways.

Highlight my strengths; don't let anything go implied: I'm a (very) fast reader. When I first got the assignment, the attorneys gave me a number of background reading assignments, totaling almost 500 pages (maybe more, I wasn't really counting). I finished all the reading before lunch and kept going back for more work. The assignment, they expected, would take a few days. Instead it took a few hours. The attorney told me that if I know that I read quickly, I should have told her that at the get go; highlight my strength instead of letting it be implied.

I was a bit annoyed at first by her two criticisms; I never knew I could be criticized for my abilities! But I welcomed it. It taught me to always ask questions. I'm the kind of person who works quickly and keeps to myself at work. But that meeting taught me to don't be afraid to bother the attorneys, ask tons of questions, and really show how interested I am in this job.

In other news, they asked me to come back next semester, and I accepted! So, another semester at DOJ! I'm super excited; I love this office.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

These weeks fly by...

So, I haven't posted in 2 weeks... it's not that I haven't been at work; it's simply been an insane semester. I leave for the Czech Republic in about 2 weeks to visit my girlfriend, and between now and then I have 3 papers, an exam, and 2 books that I have to read. And I have to put on an RA event in my building the night before I leave, so I'm currently coordinating speakers, marketing, food, etc. So, I'm sort of insanely busy.

But anyway, to work. My lunch with the attorneys and paralegals was really interesting. On the walk to the restaurant I talked to my lead attorney about Arizona; he went to the University of Arizona for undergrad, my mom has lived in Tucson for 7 years. We did a bit of Tucson geography, and I turned the question into one of law school choice; I asked if it was wise to go to law school out West. He answered that it depended where I wanted to practice. Schools like UofA are regional, so if I choose to go there, I should expect to practice out there for at least a few years. Despite the exceedingly low cost of living, I'd rather stay on the East Coast, so I won't be rushing to change my lists too much. Once at lunch, the paralegals asked a lot of questions about law school, etc, which was definitely applicable to me. I did a lot more active listening than talking.
I sent in my law school first application last week and I'm dotting the i's on the remaining applications. Such a fun process (can you smell the sarcasm?)

Anyway, not much more to report on the internship front. I was supposed to meet with an attorney to present my findings to date, but she was out sick the day we were going to meet. Hopefully we'll meet tomorrow and I'll get some more guidance on what else to search.

I'll write more tomorrow (hopefully) after the meeting!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The past 2 weeks!

Good morning, faithful readers!

The past two weeks, between midterms and work, have been a bit challenging. However, I did have some really good times at work, and I thought I'd share!

Last week, on Thursday, my supervisor set up a tour of the Main Building of DOJ (the really intimidating-looking one on Pennsylvania). The Robert F. Kennedy Department of Justice Building, as it's so called, has a significant amount of art and architecture in DOJ. I had no idea, but in the 1930s, when the building was built, a number of murals were built representing the ideals of justice. Additionally, every former Attorney General has a portrait somewhere in the building. Featured prominently, of course, is former Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy. The tour started on the 5th floor. As we were walking, the guide said, "Oh, yeah, and to your right is Attorney General Holder's office." Of course, I stopped, and she moved on to the next piece of sculpture that sits right outside AG Holder's office. I stared aimlessly into his office, trying not to look too conspicuous. Clearly, AG Holder doesn't sit in the lobby of his office suite, but I was hoping he'd race out to an important meeting or something. Sadly, he didn't. Oh well. I'll go back another day and camp outside his office...

Beyond that, I'm still working on the FDA-Criminal matter. I'm working on a memo now compiling my research from the past few weeks to recommend either an indictment or not against specific persons involved in the corporation that we're investigating. It's really fun work, and it seems that the attorney will take my word and my evidence very strongly in his decision to indict.

Other than that, tomorrow I'm having lunch with the paralegal, and the two lead attorneys in the case to get to know each other and get to know the case a bit better. It's my first lunch meeting, so it's going to be interesting to test my knowledge and abilities in this realm of the business!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Still Getting over the Shock of It All..

So I'm sitting in my office on Friday afternoon. Like many people, I was ready to go home and enjoy my weekend just about as soon as I got there on Friday morning. But alas, it was about 3:30, I had two hours of work left to do (and I had plenty of work to do, which was good).

Microsoft Outlook sends me a notification saying that I have a new email at work. This is nothing new; the DOJ relies exceedingly heavily on email. I get about 20 work emails a day, even as an intern. But this one looked a bit promising.... so I read it immediately. It was a former DOJ attorney offering me a ticket at a Supreme Court hearing. .... I hesitated, read it again, and again, and a 4th time before it sunk in. All I had to do was email back a confirmation as soon as possible. I ran into my boss' office to confirm that I was allowed to go (I knew he would say yes, but still, I thought I should be polite). He of course said "go for it!" I emailed it back and spent the rest of the afternoon reading the briefs for Mohawk Industries v. Carpenter, the case I would be seeing.

Sunday night my boss calls my cell phone at about 8:30p. He asked if I had been following ScotusBlog over the weekend. I had a somewhat busy weekend, so I responded in the negative. He replied that the first case, North Carolina v. South Carolina was rescheduled due to a family emergency, so, if I could get to the office on Monday morning at 8:30am, we had a chance of being able to see the 10am hearing, Maryland v. Shatzer, followed by my originally scheduled Mohawk Industries case. I was beyond ecstatic. Not only would I get to see two cases, but the first two cases of the Court's regularly scheduled docket (following the early hearing of the Citizens United case this summer).

I get to work at 8:29, and share an elevator upstairs with my equally excited boss. We get into our respective offices, and check our email to find a notice from our contact at the Court saying that unfortunately, due to all the switching around, we can no longer have the seats promised to us. I was crushed, and spend the first two hours of my day trying to motivate myself to work. After working myself up to see the Court, analyzing discovery materials just didn't seem so cool anymore.

But, the story gets better! At 10:27 there's a knock at my office door (I keep my office door closed because I'm in a "public" hallway, outside the office proper, so there's lots of noise as people run by doing their business; it's not as quiet as in the office proper.) My boss enters, and, in what seemed like a 5 minute speech, but was probably no longer than 30 seconds, tells me that a last-second seat had opened up! I had 10 minutes to go from 5th and E to the Supreme Court. I threw my jacket on and ran out the door.

As I exited the building I called my dad, the one person I knew who, without fail, would be in front of a computer. "Dad, get onto Google Maps. I'm at 5th and E. Get me to the Supreme Court!" I was probably shouting, but I was running and thinking so fast that I dispensed with the pleasantries. As my dad directed me down E to 5th, over to D, down to Pennsylvania, and onto Constitution, I suddenly could see the Capitol in sight. I knew I was going the right way. I ran like I've never run before (in a suit, tie and dress shoes, no less), down Constitution Avenue in the heart of the city. My boss told me that I had to be on line by 10:40 to get into the 11:00am hearing.

I did the Rocky run up the Supreme Court steps at 10:39. I had to find the Marshall's Office. "Composure," I reminded myself. "Keep your composure and don't screw this one up." A very helpful officer, maybe seeing the mix of adrenaline, fear, and excitement, directed me into a side door to the Marshall's Office. I checked in with the person I had to see, and got in line to enter the Court. Although I was still catching my breath, I was suddenly in the gorgeous main hall of the Court. It suddenly started to hit me where I was, and what was waiting behind the big wooden doors. My heart started beating quickly; I was surrounded by a group of lawyers who got tickets all the time as members of the Supreme Court Bar. Here I was, a representative of the Justice Department, among all these lawyers, just trying to compose myself. It was completely surreal.

The doors opened, the Marshalls escorted us to our seats, and I was seated inside a room that is beyond comprehension. This is room where Brown v. Board of Education was argued, Roe v. Wade, and hundreds of other cases that I have studied in my time at American. The red curtains ruffled, and the justices entered the room. I'm sitting on one of those wooden benches you see in the picture, basically dead center. Justice Roberts sits in the middle seat. To his left (in seniority order), Justices Stevens, Kennedy, Ginsberg, and Alito. To his right, Scalia, Thomas, Breyer, and Sotomayor. The case begins. I'm too enthralled to actually understand what's going on, but all I know is that I think Thomas and Scalia had a joke telling contest going, and Sotomayor asked the majority of questions.

In another thrilling bit of choreography, at exactly the one hour mark, Justice Roberts announced, "Case submitted." All nine justices got up in unison and exited through the red curtains back to their robing room. The crowd stands with them, and then slowly files out. The experience at the Supreme Court is one that I will never forget, and I am so unbelievably grateful that the DOJ offered me this ticket. I can't wait to go back.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

What an insane few weeks!

To my loyal followers, my sincere apologies for not updating sooner! These weeks have been a whirlwind of assignments, days at work, other responsibilities, and generally a lack of sleep. But, that's no excuse not to update you on the excitement of the Department of Justice (by the way, check out that link! DOJ released a new website today, along with a Facebook and a Twitter. Welcome to the 21st century, DOJ!).

I finally got my approval to work on the FDA-Criminal case I spoke about in my last post. It's sort of a complicated story, but suffice to say that I had a number of really awesome people step up on my behalf to make the process simpler. Apparently interns get a lower-level clearance than the usual DOJ employee, and because of that, it was taking security a long time to clear me. But it all worked out! Today I got my secure token which allows me access to a secure database. Basically, we're in the investigation stage. My document searching is multi-faceted. One, I'm looking through the millions of pages of discovery materials (mostly emails) to find what certain individuals knew about certain potentially illegal actions taken by the company under investigation. Secondly, I have some paper documents that we need the catalogue number of. So I'm keyword searching phrases from the paper documents to find the electronic versions, to find the catalogue numbers.

As a follow up to the 2000 printed page story from last post, the posts printed totally out of order. So it was impossible to organize, and we ended up having to reprint most of it. We print a TON of paper in the office, which is sort of sad, but mostly necessary. The 2000 page thing wasn't ideal, but my options were to spend days and days organizing these files into correct order, or just re-print it and have it in order in 20 minutes.

The other really cool thing today was the brown bag lunch seminar. An attorney in the office gave this awesome presentation about criminal case procedure, from complaint, to investigation, search warrants, chain of evidence, indictment, trial procedure and strategy, plea agreements, everything. Literally a soup-to-nuts presentation about criminal procedure and constitutional law. It was really outstanding.

That's it for today; tomorrow is more document searching. Over the next few weeks I'll be going on a tour of the Main Justice Building, which is exciting, and some more document stuff. I'll update again soon!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Week Two!

So, last week I discussed two things I was excited for: the staff meeting on Monday and the continuation of the case locating project.

Neither of those things happened this week. BUT, it's for the best! I had a really good week.

Monday morning I got to the office, opened my office email, and found 25 emails. Apparently the elevator wasn't working properly (you have to swipe your ID at a reader before you press certain floors, including ours. The reader wasn't working, so people couldn't get the correct floors. Tragedy). Of course, instead of responding directly to an email from IT asking who was having issues, employees Reply-All'ed. Once I weeded through those emails, I found an email from a paralegal asking for help on a project! Of course I run into her office.

The project is an FDA Criminal investigation. I don't know too much about it right now, but let's say Drug Company is making a drug for a specific purpose. But, instead of using it for that purpose, they are selling and advertising it "off-label," for another purpose. This purpose is generally not permitted based on FDA guidelines, and generally has other criminal implications. But, I had to get special access to a certain secure file system, which involves an approval from another office, before I could start on this process.

Now, as I'm learning, nothing is ever simple. For example, this approval. The paralegal emailed someone, that person responded, CC'ing 3 other people. One of those other people sent me an application for this database.. a 3 page form. I get the form in quickly, and now I'm waiting for them to process the approval. Hopefully I can start working on this project next week.

The project I ended up working on was a Criminal Odometer Tampering case. Basically, a car dealership might be rolling back the miles on their used cars. To prove this, a paralegal asked me to run CarFax and AutoCheck reports on the cars. 240 cars later (480 files, each at about 5 pages per file), I completed the project. It took about a day and a half to compile all of those cases. Next, the paralegal wanted printed, stapled copies of the files. 2000 printed pages later (and thank God for double-siding!) and the project was complete. I've never seen so much paper before...

Now, you're probably thinking, how didn't I start crying from boredom? My theory with internships is that any time I get a task, I smile, say thank you, and do it as quickly (while maintaining accuracy) as possible. This establishes credibility that I can work quickly and effectively, and will move me past some of the more.... irritating... tasks. I don't ask "why do I have to do this?" I just take care of business. People tend to appreciate that, at least in the internships I've worked at.

Anyway, that's all for this week. Next week, look for my access to be approved (hopefully), the staff meeting not to get cancelled again (please!) and other exciting and random projects!


Saturday, September 12, 2009

My first week

I started work on Thursday morning at 9am. Of course, timing the red line and the shuttle in the morning is a consistent challenge. I walked through the doors of my building at 9:08am.

After I made it past security, I headed up the elevator to my office. I walked into the front door. The student working the front desk asked, "Josh?" The fact that he knew my name, that I was arriving that day, was immediately comforting; I, for one, knew that I had made it to the correct office, which assuaged one of my first-day fears.

After waiting for a few minutes, I met my supervisor, and another student, Dan, a fellow AU student! Dan was talking super-quickly as he got me set up on my computer, and showed me my office. He had to make it back to an 11:20 class, so he was running me through some basic procedures on our databases. Great information, but I was too busy trying to soak it all in to remember to take notes. I gave myself a self-guided tour of the Microsoft Access-based database system to get a feel for how things run. Oh, and yes, I actually have an office with my own desk and computer, and a door. Not a cubicle. My name is even on the door.

I share my office with another intern, Shanley, who has her own desk and computer as well. We're great office buddies, despite how hard we both work all day. Shanley is working on some data entry for a big case, so she is always super-intensely typing away into Excel. We have nice conversations, but I try not to distract her too much.

Anyway, back on topic, after Dan got me all set up and ran off to class, I went into a three-hour meeting with my supervisor, Ken. Ken is a great guy; he wants to be sure that I fully understand what the office is doing, how things work, how our computer system works, etc. Although our meeting went for a significant portion of the morning, he never made it seem like I was wasting his time, or that he had better things to do. My project was going to be to talk to an attorney and do research for a major case that she's working on. But, sadly, she emailed my supervisor just as I was about to go meet with her saying that another intern started the project and was making major headway, so the extra set of hands wasn't necessary.

Instead what I've been working on for the past two days has been checking the system to see where the files are supposed to be in certain paralegals' offices. From there, I make sure that they're in the right place. It seems really meaningless, but it's actually important. People have to be able to find their case files, and in an office where each attorney is handling at least 10 and at most 40 open cases, finding the hard copy of a file should be as easy as possible. I completed the starting task of finding the files just before I left on Friday (meaning, 5:28pm). Next, I get to go talk to the lawyers and paralegals about the current status of the cases, and update the system with the latest information.

What I like most about this task is that even though it involves a lot of grunge-work, it's also allowing me to meet and chat with a number of paralegals and attorneys. It's breaking some of that obvious ice that exists when you first meet someone; we're getting past the simple "where do you go to school," and beginning to talk about law school applications, law in general, etc. It's been quite fun, actually.

I'll post next week with an update on this project. Apparently on Monday we have a staff meeting where I'll get to introduce myself formally to the office and ask for stuff to do! It's exciting.

Hello, World!

Hello, my loyal readers! I started this blog in conjunction with American University's Career Center to share my experiences interning at the Department of Justice. I'm working in the Civil Division, in the Office of Consumer Litigation (OCL).

Basically, any United States consumer can submit an inquiry to our office. It is investigated, and if necessary, litigated.

Anyway, let me take a few steps back: how did I find this internship? Finding the internship took some legwork. I used, selected a number of agencies that I was interested in, and searched the agency websites to find internships. I ended up on the Office of Consumer Litigation internship website, read the instructions, and faxed in my application.

About a week later, I received a call from a blocked phone number. I happened to be away from my phone when the call came through, but when I got my voicemail, I had a message from the Department of Justice asking for a return call to talk about my application!

I got in touch with Justice, and I spoke with soon-to-be-supervisor about the position for about 20 minutes. By the end of the conversation, he offered me a position.

The background check process was fairly intense. I had to list places I've lived and worked and provide references for each, and get fingerprinted. After all that was completed, I was invited for an orientation session where we watched a video about security, and went to the main DOJ building to get my ID badge. At that point, I was ready to begin work! My next post will discuss my first two days at work, so stay tuned!