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BY ANNA MADRISHIN ’20
What It's Like Working as a Legal Intern for the U.S. Department of State

Anna Madrishin has done a lot in just a few years at New England Law | Boston: getting a Rappaport Fellowship, serving as a Legal Fellow for the Massachusetts Health Policy Commission, and racking up tons of experience through clerkships and extracurricular organizations. But the most exciting opportunity so far might just be interning for the U.S. Department of State in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.

Here, she shares her first-hand experience of what it’s like interning for the State Department, including the application process, her responsibilities, and how law school prepared her for the job.

During the fall semester of my 3L year, I had the unique opportunity to work at the Department of State in Washington, D.C., through the Center for International Law and Policy (CILP) legal externship program.

Each day was different, but regardless of what I was doing, the amount I learned and experienced from my fifteen weeks at the Department of State are invaluable.

The Application Process

I became interested in gaining legal work experience with human rights and international law after taking Business Compliance and Human Rights, then Public International Law, with Professor and CILP director Lisa Laplante. CILP offers several great externship opportunities, but for my interests and career path, I decided to apply for the Department of State externship in March of 2019.

I was fortunate enough to be offered an externship for the fall 2019 semester with the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL), but the application process and security clearance vetting were extensive.

The Department of State’s application is completely external from the law school, and many applicants from all stages of education and geographical location apply. After I submitted my application, I did not receive an offer, or even a response, until many months later. Likewise, after being chosen as an intern, I submitted my security clearance information in May and was not cleared for work until August, leaving me only few weeks to make housing arrangements.

However, all of the stress and unknowns were definitely worth it in the end.  

The Work of a State Department Legal Intern

I interned with DRL’s office of Multilateral and Global Affairs, specifically working with the Multilateral Team. When I started my internship in September, all efforts were focused on the seventy-fourth session of the Social, Humanitarian, and Cultural Issues (3C) of the General Assembly of the United Nations.

Every intern at the State Department has a different experience depending on their bureau, office, supervisor, and tasks. I was tasked with drafting various interventions—short speeches read on behalf of the United States at the UN—on topics such as Freedom of Expression, Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Elimination of Racial Discrimination, Torture, and Transitional Justice and Reparations.

Following the interventions, I also worked on editing Resolutions for the United States to negotiate at the UN, such as Equal Pay, Social Inclusion and Diversity, Right to Development, and Promotion of a Democratic and Equitable International Order.

After 3C ended, I finished my internship working on Universal Periodic Reviews (UPR) for the United Nations Human Rights Council. Not only did I lead the development of the United States’ UPR webpage, but I also worked on other countries’ UPR clearances, which included interventions and advanced questions.

As evident from my different tasks, no day at the State Department was the same. Not only did I deliver different work products throughout the externship, but I also had the opportunity to attend events. These events ranged from escorting Girl Scouts around the building for International Day of the Girl to working the Warsaw Process: Promoting Peace and Security event. I also attended DRL events relating to businesses in Xinjiang, human rights in Iran, and Secretary Pompeo’s Commission on Unalienable Rights.

From Law School to DC

While I was not working in the legal department, being in law school did help me during the externship. Taking the Public International Law class provided me with the knowledge to understand the components and powers of the United Nations. I constantly applied my knowledge about international treaties, specifically the difference between treaty signatures and ratifications and the importance of reservations. I was able to understand the reasoning behind the legal team’s actions and explain it to colleagues if they asked.

It was great to be surrounded by so many people who attended law school but decided to pursue government work rather than become practicing attorneys. It was the first time I experienced first-hand alternative careers some lawyers pick and how their education helps them daily.

Being in the Federal Government

At first, I was anxious about working in international human rights, given current events.

The administration, regardless of party affiliation, impacts legal redlines and the overall goals of the United States—but the working goals of federal employees are consistent. Many of the individuals at the Department of State have worked there for more than twenty-five years, so their passion is unwavering. Compromising with political appointees and other government agencies, like USAID, is a fundamental component of working at the State Department.

Overall, I would highly recommend other law students apply for this externship. Interning with the legal department is a separate application, but I really enjoyed working with lawyers and non-lawyers, because each person offered different skills and solutions based on their background.

Based on my work with the U.S. Department of State, I feel confident I would be happy pursing human rights and public international law after law school.

Anna Madrishin is a member of New England Law | Boston’s Class of 2020.

Learn more about opportunities for law students at the U.S. Department of State, as well as other international law externships.