by Sarah Rubin J.D.’21
In the spring semester of my 3L year, I had the privilege of joining the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee staff of Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) as an oversight law clerk. After working for a health policy research and consulting firm in Washington, D.C. and a Democratic pollster in New York City, I came to HLS to pursue a career in health law and policy, with a specific focus on government work. As a 1L, my Office of Public Interest Advising (OPIA) advisor, Catherine Pattanayak, recommended that I apply to the Government Lawyer: Semester in Washington clinic as an upperclassman to explore law and policy opportunities in the federal government.
Since then, the COVID-19 pandemic’s devastating impact has only deepened my commitment to pursuing government solutions to health policy and public health challenges. In summer 2020, I worked alongside brilliant and passionate health lawyers at the U.S. Food & Drug Administration’s Office of Chief Counsel at a time when protecting public health was of the utmost national importance. Following a rewarding summer at the FDA, I wanted to use my clinical experience to continue to support efforts to combat the pandemic, increase access to health care, and promote health equity.
When I was a new college graduate in D.C., I was curious about working on the Hill and the ways in which young staffers could influence change on important policy issues. But between job and location transitions and an impending application to law school, the timing never seemed to work out. By the time I applied to the spring 2021 Semester in Washington clinic, I thought the semester could coincide with a challenging—yet important—time in Congress.
I was right—in ways I never could have anticipated. As the pandemic continued to take a toll on communities across the United States, two historic elections put Democrats in the White House and gave them the congressional majority. And the day after I started my clerkship with the HELP Committee, insurrectionists stormed the Capitol in an attempt to violently halt the functioning of our democratic institutions. These events only brought the importance of federal government work more sharply into focus.
As an oversight law clerk, I contribute to the HELP Committee’s efforts to usher President Biden’s nominations to positions in health, education, and labor agencies through the Senate confirmation process. I also support oversight efforts around COVID-19 response and work to collaborate with civil rights groups around health, education, and workforce legislative priorities. Since the start of my clerkship, I have been incredibly heartened by the Democratic HELP Committee staff’s commitment to supporting working people and advocating for policy changes that benefit communities of color, the LGBTQIA+ community, and individuals with disabilities. Each day, I am reminded of how the Committee’s work directly impacts millions of Americans’ daily lives as they navigate the health care system, work to provide for their families, and prepare their kids for remote and in-person schooling during an immensely challenging time.
Through Professor Jonathan Wroblewski’s Semester in Washington seminar, the clinic has also allowed me to learn alongside other HLS students working in federal government offices. Twice weekly, we discuss the intricacies of the policymaking process, the ethics of government lawyering, and the challenges inherent in government organizational structure and bureaucracy. I am grateful to Professor Wroblewski and the Office of Clinical Programs for this opportunity to gain invaluable government lawyering experience during the academic year, and I highly recommend it for HLS students interested in a career in government and public service.