The University of Texas at Austin   School of Law

William Wayne Justice Center for Public Interest Law

“That they may truly and impartially administer justice”

Legislative Internship Program

Description - Spring 2011

Instructors:

Tina Fernandez, Director, Pro Bono Program
(512) 232-6170
tfernandez@law.utexas.edu

Lucy Wood, Lecturer
lucylou_w@hotmail.com

The University of Texas School of Law
727 E. Dean Keeton Street
Austin, Texas 78705
fax (512) 232-0705

I. Introduction

The Legislative Internship Program provides a unique opportunity for students to study the legislative process by working at offices connected to the Texas Legislature for academic credit. Students work on legal issues under the supervision of experienced attorneys who provide broad exposure to the activities of their offices and varied, demanding assignments. Interns study many aspects of the legislative process: how legislation is developed and drafted, legislative negotiating and decision-making, the intersection of politics and law, and legislative institutions. All interns are expected to do significant research and writing.

Students may work in the Lieutenant Governor's Office, a Senator's office, a Representative's office, a committee office, the Legislative Council, or a legislative agency. Students apply directly to legislative offices to secure their internship placements. All placements and supervisors must be approved by an instructor. Each student must be supervised by an attorney who has been licensed for at least three years, although the student may also receive assignments from others in the office. While the students' internship experiences serve as a basis for written assignments and class discussion, all confidentiality constraints are strictly observed.

Students also meet as a class three times during the semester for an orientation and to discuss topics relevant to the legislative process and their experiences. Requirements include goal setting, short writing assignments and individual meetings with the instructors. This program lasts for one semester and offers three credits (graded pass/fail). Students are required to perform a minimum of 175 hours of legal work at their placements.

Students may not receive compensation for their work. This program is open to students who have completed the first two semesters of law school. Students with extensive legislative experience will be encouraged to intern in a setting that is new to them.

II. Educational Objectives

  1. To develop students' skills through participation in and observation of the legal work performed in their placements;
  2. To expose students to issues of professional responsibility and ethics in a legislative practice;
  3. To enhance students' understanding of how statutory law develops and how legal principles apply to the legislative process;
  4. To give students the opportunity to reflect upon legislative institutions, the intersection of politics and law, and the role of lawyers in the legislature;
  5. To instill fundamental values of the legal profession, including the promotion of justice, the democratic process, and commitment to an ongoing process of professional self-development.

III. Role of the Supervising Attorney

Placement supervisors are critical partners in this program. Our students receive an obvious educational benefit, and we hope that supervisors will both find the mentoring role rewarding and enjoy the side benefit of student assistance.

The Law School 's expectations of supervisors are as follows:

Orientation: Each supervisor should ensure that students receive an orientation about the mission of the office, workplace policies and procedures, resources available for legal research, and confidentiality of information. Supervisors may want to give students training materials or a list of suggested readings.

Semester Plan: Each student is responsible for developing educational goals for the internship. Students discuss these issues individually with the course instructors at the beginning of the semester. Students also meet with their supervisors to discuss their goals and the types of experience that might help to achieve them. The student and supervisor together create a semester plan that includes specific activities designed to maximize the educational content of the internship. This plan should be as concrete as possible and should consider all available learning opportunities within the placement setting (i.e., staff meetings, hearings, assignments, negotiation and planning sessions, etc.). The student reduces the semester plan to writing for the supervisor and instructors.

Work assignments and requirements: Students should be assigned to do significant legal work. Supervisors are encouraged to consider whether some kinds of assignments and/or opportunities for observation are more suited to student objectives than others.

If students are to receive work from several people, the primary supervisor must monitor the student's assignments. The supervisor is responsible for evaluating the student. Students may work with non-lawyer professionals, but the student's work must be primarily legal in nature.

The supervisor and student are expected to establish a regular schedule for the student's work. While the student may perform some of the required hours away from the placement (i.e., in the law school library), most of the intern's time should be spent at the office. Each intern is required to maintain timesheets reflecting the hours they work and the general nature of their activities. The timesheets must be signed by the supervisor or another staff member.

Supervision: The internship program offers a unique opportunity for a student to meet regularly with an experienced attorney to discuss assignments, legislative developments, public policy, strategy, decision-making, professional responsibility issues, and activities the student has observed. Such interactions help the student develop insight into the role of lawyers in the legislature.

Regular supervision is a critical part of the educational experience. The supervisor should be available to answer questions, provide feedback, and monitor the student's assignments and performance. Supervisors are encouraged to comment on the strengths and weaknesses of an intern's performance on each activity and provide suggestions for improvement.

Evaluation: Supervisors are expected to evaluate students at the middle and the end of the internship. For the mid-internship evaluation, students complete a written self-evaluation addressing their original learning goals and their performance. This self-evaluation serves as the basis for a meeting between the supervisor and the intern to review the student's progress and plan for the rest of the internship. The supervisor will also be contacted mid-semester by one of the instructors to discuss the student's activities and performance.

Each supervisor is asked to complete a written evaluation of the student at the end of the internship and send it to the instructors. The student's performance must be rated at least "satisfactory" in order to receive academic credit. The supervisor and student also meet for an exit conference to discuss the evaluation and the student's experience.

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