Law Students Share Their Summer Adventures

Law School Office of Communications
September 26, 2012

It’s the age-old back-to-school assignment in elementary school: Write about what you did this summer.

Chicago Law students would have a lot to say if given such an assignment now. Our students spend their summers living and working around the world. Some work at law firms, big and small, and others with businesses, nonprofits, government agencies, and judges. They serve as research assistants for professors and work in the Law School’s clinics.

Of course, the Law School students aren’t required to write such an essay. But a few of them offered to do it anyway, to give us a glimpse of the varied and exciting work they did.

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Eric Alston, ’14  (pictured on homepage in Florence)
Hometown: Gold Hill, Colo.
Constitution Reform Associate with the International Development Law Organization in Rome

My three months in Rome gave me the opportunity to reside in the beautiful heart of the old empire and provided me with valuable hands-on experience in modern constitutional issues. My main contribution from my time with the International Development Law Organization (IDLO) was a substantial report on the impact of the Kenyan Commission for the Implementation of the Constitution, which is one of the first bodies of its kind. In preparing this report, I went on a mission to Nairobi to meet with members of the commission, Civil Society, and numerous High Court Justices. I had enough time to go on safari in the nearest national park, as well as to visit an orphanage to deliver some much-needed foodstuffs. 

While at IDLO, I also developed a comparative analysis of fundamental rights guaranteed in the Somali Consultation Draft Constitution, the results of which were published on major news sites including The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Bloomberg, BBC, and others. Making new friends, enjoying Rome’s nightlife and rich history, and traveling to Africa, all while approaching tough constitutional design questions: What more could I ask of my summer break?

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Robert Armstrong, ‘13
Hometown: El Paso, Texas
Worked for the in-house legal department at Groupon in Chicago

My summer working in-house at Groupon was fun and exciting. I had an opportunity to assist more than 20 attorneys with a broad range of work.  Every assignment I was asked to help with was substantive, important, and interesting. The culture at Groupon is young and lively, and the legal team is reflective of that.

So what did I do over the summer?  Thanks to Keurig, the traditional summer associate task of making coffee brewing has become mostly automated.  Therefore, instead of scorching coffee for the Hall of Justice (Groupon's legal department), I supported the sales team by researching questions on state laws governing daily deals across the country.  A few things I learned while combing various state statutes:

(1) Massachusetts classifies pepper spray as ammunition
(2) Florida does not require a license to operate a mechanical massage chair
(3) Missouri is relatively laissez-faire about open liquor containers in cars

Aside from my research and rescue operations, I assisted with contract drafting, sales agreement review, and Spanish document translation.  Overall, I would highly recommend that anyone who is interested in supporting technology companies or just wants a taste of what working in-house is like consider Groupon as a summer employer.

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Italia Patti, ’14 
Hometown: Pittsburgh, Penn.
Worked at the Legal Assistance Foundation (LAF) in Chicago as part of the Housing Practice Group, which focuses primarily on eviction defense for people living in subsidized housing

This summer at LAF I got to do a lot of substantive legal work, such as writing motions for summary judgment on behalf of people who were being evicted from subsidized housing. I learned a lot about Illinois landlord-tenant law, but mostly I learned how important it is for people to have a lawyer on their side. Without a lawyer to explain to someone what defenses she might have or how to reach a settlement with the landlord, she could get evicted just for not knowing the law or having anyone to advocate for her interests. In a lot of cases LAF clients got to keep their housing, whereas without representation they probably would have been evicted, even though the facts would have been the same. This summer definitely made me feel strongly about the “civil Gideon” movement—the idea that everyone should have the right to counsel in a civil case, like an eviction, as well as in a criminal one.

At the same time, I did see some of the limits of what a lawyer can do for someone. Most of LAF’s clients are facing challenges that have nothing to do with the particular legal crisis that brought them to LAF. My job got me thinking a lot about policy, and what our society can do to help people living in poverty other than just making sure they have access to good lawyers, which is a must.

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Nicholas Plassaras, ‘14
Hometown: Stockton, Calif.
Judicial Extern for Chief Judge Alex Kozinski of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in Pasadena, Calif.

This summer, I externed for Chief Judge Alex Kozinski of the Ninth Circuit.  As an extern, I took the first stab at cases—I read the parties’ briefs, familiarized myself with the record, and isolated the key legal issues before anyone else.  It was then my responsibility to explain all of this to one of Judge Kozinski’s law clerks and write a memo detailing my recommendation for the disposition of the case.  In addition, I helped prep Judge Kozinski for oral argument by putting together “bench books”—binders with all the relevant excerpts from the record, statutory language, and case law.

My summer with Judge Kozinski was a truly phenomenal experience. I got to see, firsthand, how one of the country’s greatest judges thinks and writes. I got to watch actual attorneys do their thing at oral argument. I got to work one-on-one with Judge Kozinski’s law clerks on some of today’s most challenging legal issues. And I got to do it with some of the coolest people I have ever met.  The importance of working with great people—people who are not only brilliant, but genuinely awesome to be around—is probably the greatest lesson I learned this summer. In short, my summer in the Ninth Circuit was more than I could ever have hoped for, and it is an experience I will always treasure.   

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David Woolston, ’13
Hometown:  Fairfax, VA
Summer Associate at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom in Washington, D.C.

This summer at Skadden Arps I worked on projects in several different practice areas. I focused primarily on corporate projects within the Mergers and Acquisitions group, but I also took assignments in the Project Finance, Energy Regulatory, and Litigation groups.  My projects included a hostile takeover defense, several friendly M&A deals, a wind-farm refinancing, a regulatory contest of a fine for market manipulation, and a pro bono matter advising a foreign government as it established a large charitable fund.  I worked a lot and I learned a lot.   

I also had a blast.  My summer associate class (there were roughly 20 of us in the D.C. office) really gelled and I was lucky to make several great friends.  The firm helped facilitate summer associate bonding with lots of fun events, including go-kart racing, painting, a 10K race, a cooking class, laser tag, a baseball game, a musical, and several attorney-hosted parties.  The amount of time I spent getting to know the other summers and the attorneys definitely resulted in me having to work some late nights but I wouldn’t do it differently.  It was definitely one of the better summers of my life and my only regret is that I cannot be a full-time summer associate forever.  

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Adrienne N. Young, ‘13
Hometown: Dearborn, MI
Law Clerk, Detroit Public Schools Office of General Counsel

The city of Detroit is a breeding ground for dedicated public servants, and I had the privilege to work among some of the best in the Detroit Public Schools (DPS) Office of General Counsel. As their clerk, I wrote memoranda, briefs, and motions that provided assistance in administrative court, dismissed cases in federal court, and resolved matters in state court. I reviewed complaints from the Michigan Protection and Advocacy services and Michigan Department of Education. As a result, I took the lead on restructuring procedures in the Office of Specialized Student Services.

At student code hearings I watched experienced attorneys, themselves educated in DPS, strike a difficult balance between accountability and empathy. In practice, each attorney proceeded with humility only a lifetime of service can develop. For every litigation victory, there were an equal number of compromises, such as an extension on rent for DPS’ tenants and additional services for families of students with special needs.

I truly loved my summer job. Amidst the political turmoil and steady workload, I built relationships with fantastic attorneys, who are also dedicated mothers, fathers, and to me, mentors. In this struggling, infamous school system, I rediscovered the great potential of Detroit and a real dedication to justice.