A Passion Discovered
At age 13 on a middle-school field trip to Washington, D.C., Abbie Kamin and her classmates found themselves in front of the Supreme Court Building during the highly controversial Bush v. Gore case. “The protests and all that completely sparked my interest,” she says, “to see everybody protesting and speaking their minds and having arguments on both sides.”
Now a second-year student at American University Washington College of Law in Washington, D.C., Kamin also was affected by her experience on evacuation day during the buildup to Hurricane Katrina flooding the city of New Orleans in 2005. “I witnessed the failure of government on every level,” she says. “From then on, I just committed myself to being involved in the political process.”
For Kamin and other law students, being involved has meant eschewing the traditional law firm internship route and spending this past summer working for the campaigns of presidential candidates Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, or other candidates running for office (see sidebar, page 29).
“I’m only in law school once, there’s only one presidential election during that time, and I personally believe this is one of the most important elections, if not the most important, in my lifetime,” says Kamin, who worked for the Voter Protection Department of the Democratic National Committee (DNC). “What’s at stake—it’s too important not to be involved.”
Kamin spent the summer applying her skill set from her first year at American to researching issues involving protecting people’s right to vote. The basic core courses gave her knowledge about everything from the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure to the best use of resources like Westlaw and Lexis.
“It’s been very interesting and exciting to be able to take what I’m learning and apply it in the real world to an area I’m passionate about,” she says. “I do want to be involved in politics. I love the legislative process. I wanted to follow what gets me excited in the morning.”
Having worked as a paralegal in the past, Kamin says she knew at the outset she did not want to work at a law firm. Her dream: to work on Capitol Hill as a policymaker. She is taking a legislative seminar this fall and plans to work the polls in Virginia on Election Day as a legal observer.
Other students at American University Washington College of Law share similar passions but not necessarily specifically about politics to the same degree. “It’s hard on a day-to-day basis to just have a discussion about politics,” Kamin says. “I don’t necessarily get to do it unless it’s in a constitutional law class. It’s great to be around individuals who share a similar passion, drive, and interests.”
Ensuring Voting Rights for All
Fellow second-year American University Washington College of Law student Jay Shannon has similar passions. He spent the summer in a similar vein as Kamin, working for a project of the Florida state Democratic Party called victory counsel—essentially another term of art for voter protection.
With only three or four interns in the department, Shannon says he spent 12 or more hours per day researching questions like whether a canvassing board needs a quorum to count ballots and wrote memos that were forwarded onward and upward. “A lot of our issues are substantive issues,” he says. “You’re not treated like an intern. You’re in meetings, making recommendations. It’s not like you’re given the pro bono work, as with firms. It’s actual work. . . . It’s not where the money is, but it is fulfilling.”
A deputy field organizer for the 2008 Obama campaign as an undergraduate at the University of Central Florida, Shannon says he enjoyed organizing work but decided to see if there was a legal arm of the campaign in which he could get involved this time around. “It’s unfortunate that there need to be attorneys” to protect voter rights, he says. “It ends up being taxpayer dollars vs. taxpayer dollars [that fund the cases brought]. It’s always the federal government ensuring that the Voting Rights Act is upheld. I find it a little disturbing that we need to dedicate resources from campaigning to just ensure that people get what they are guaranteed.”
Third-party organizations challenge voters suspected of not being legitimately registered to vote, Shannon says, and when a voter is challenged in Florida, “it almost certainly means they will have to vote by provisional ballot. Those are only counted about half the time. It depends on whether the canvassing board believes the vote is legitimately cast. It’s very subjective.”
The summer experience will pay dividends in the short and long term, believes Shannon, who hopes to become a voting rights attorney. “Coming to Florida and doing this was a great decision. I’ve decided I do want to pursue victory counsel-type work in the future. There are not a lot of positions, but it’s something I’m very passionate about.”
In the shorter run, Shannon adds, the heightened focus the experience has instilled in him will help him choose classes he’s interested in at American.
Right Place at the Right Time
Not all law students who spent the summer working on a political campaign had quite that same intense focus. Calli Shapiro, a second-year student at The John Marshall Law School in Chicago, planned to do a law firm internship, but it fell through at the last minute. She subsequently saw an e-mail about organizing fellowships working for the Obama campaign on the west side of Chicago.
“I thought, ‘This is what I want to be doing this summer,’” she says. “It’s meaningful and I believe in the president. It was the right place at the right time.”
Based in the city’s 27th Ward, Shapiro helped recruit people to join the campaign, hosted phone banks, pulled together neighborhood meetings, and organized training on the use of data and digital resources. She continued with this work after school started and planned to stay at it through Election Day.
Shapiro says the experience brought her into contact with people from various walks of life whom she never would have met in a million years. “Politics draws a very diverse crowd,” she notes.
Shapiro met state senators and Chicago aldermen. “I had access to people just by being associated with the president,” she says. “I’ve never worked in a law firm. I’m not sure you would feel that same pride.”
Nonetheless, given the “divisiveness, mudslinging, and nastiness” that Shapiro sees more generally in politics—even if she hasn’t encountered it in her role this year—she does not see herself entering the political world longer term. She says her most likely occupation upon graduating from law school will be as a patent attorney.
Having completed a master’s in public health before entering John Marshall, Shapiro says she can see herself working for an organization that does policymaking, not as her primary goal but possibly as a passion project later in life. “I never expected to do politics,” she says. “The realities of what politics are never interested me. As a career path, I don’t think I would do it forever.”
“Not a Political Guy by Nature”
But law school friend’s campaign prompts 2012 Berkeley grad to defer firm job.
Colin Hunter spent the summer after his first year at the University of California-Berkeley School of Law working for the US Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. During his second year, he externed with the US Attorney’s Office in San Francisco. But his career direction was more fatefully determined by his internship after his second year in the litigation department at Stoel Rives LLP in Portland, Oregon.
Having found a passion for commercial litigation, Hunter accepted an offer to work at Stoel Rives after graduation—but then deferred his start date several months to work on the congressional campaign of his law school friend Ricky Gill, a Republican who’s opposing three-term incumbent Rep. Jerry McNerney in California’s newly drawn Ninth District, a swath of the Central Valley in and around Stockton.
“I’m not a political guy by nature,” says Hunter, who’s handling the gamut of communications issues as communications director for the campaign. “This is the first political campaign I’ve ever worked on. I’m doing it because Ricky is a good friend of mine and somebody I believe in—not because I have a particular love of politics.”
His soon-to-be colleagues at Stoel Rives “were kind enough to allow me to defer, essentially, so I could finish out the campaign and then start working there immediately afterward,” Hunter adds. “I wouldn’t call this a detour, but it is an unexpected opportunity.”
Hunter first got to know Gill as part of a study group with a couple of other students at the end of the first semester. “I got to know those guys pretty well,” he says. “That’s the way all this ended up developing.”
This is Gill’s first run for office, although he previously served in an appointed role on the California State Board of Education.
In his role as communications director, Hunter works with interns, assigns them research and writing projects, and relies on them to keep him posted about events, while coordinating the big picture with the deputy field director, treasurer, fund-raising team, and other senior staff. “I handle communications and a pretty wide variety of other tasks,” he says. “Whatever needs to be done is what I do.”
“I’m very glad to have the opportunity to work on a campaign for somebody like Ricky, who’s not only a good friend but somebody who would be good for the country if he were elected,” Hunter says. “I don’t have any ambition of doing it again.”