By Monica Wilk, J.D. ’18
Student in the Employment Law Clinic
My internship with the Department of Labor was a wonderful, formative experience because I actually enjoyed traditional lawyering work for the first time. On the first day of class in the Employment Workshop, our Clinic Director, Steve Churchill asked us to share our biggest fear of becoming a lawyer. I explained my fear of burnout by expressing how much I honestly disliked lawyering work. At the time, I regretted attending law school, let alone signing up for a clinic. However, this internship completely changed my attitude about pursuing a career in law because I discovered satisfying, challenging work that I enjoyed. The work involved pressing, important issues and required quick problem solving, creative thinking, and sophisticated analysis. I found myself looking forward to returning to work, something I never imagined would happen at the beginning of the clinic. As a result, I had the opportunity to identify for myself some of the work environment characteristics necessary for a satisfying, successful career.
While I had encountered complex, interesting legal work before, a number of factors distinguished the Solicitor’s Office from my other experiences. First, the office worked at a very fast pace to respond to new cases and burgeoning legal issues faced by the Department. The work’s constant urgency was a terrific motivation and energized day-to-day operations. Second, the attorneys and staff fostered a supportive, collaborative work community. They appeared to genuinely like one another, cared about everyone’s success, and felt comfortable reaching out to ask for help or second opinions. Forgoing social politics in favor of a culture of collegiality allowed the office to maintain an effective community of lawyers conducive to producing great work. Third, the attorneys demonstrated their pride and appreciation in their career as a platform to affect change through their work. The seriousness and intensity with which everyone approached their work showed how sincerely the attorneys are driven by the Department of Labor’s mission. When attorneys spoke of how privileged they felt to work for the Department, they cited individual cases and plans to address the needs of communities rather than broad concepts like “upholding employment rights.” Allowing the work and its relevance to speak for itself pushed the role of the lawyer to the background and rightfully foregrounded the importance of service to lawyering. Such a humble, supportive work community complemented the challenges of addressing complicated problems at an urgent pace, and created a work environment in which the attorneys—and I—thrived.