How I Got My Summer Job in the Federal Government (and Split that Summer with a Law Firm)

Kim Child, SJQ 2012: Office of Chief Counsel, FDA in Washington, D.C., and Ray Quinney & Nebeker, Salt Lake City



1.  For whom did you work and what did you do over the summer?  I split my summer.  I spent the first half working for the Office of Chief Counsel for the FDA in Washington, D.C., and the second half working for Ray Quinney & Nebeker in Salt Lake City.

At the FDA, I spent most of my time doing legal research and writing.  The office I worked for provides legal counsel to the centers for foods, drugs, biologics, devices, and tobacco products.  Whenever one of those centers had a legal question or potential issue that didn’t have an easy answer, I would research it and write up a memo.  It was interesting in the sense that I was working in a narrow subject area that I am interested in, but it otherwise felt very similar to most of the other legal work I have done so far.

At Ray Quinney & Nebeker, I also did legal research and writing, but in addition to that I got plenty of hands-on learning experiences.  My first project was to track down and interview witnesses.  I also had the opportunity to attend hearings and meet with clients, and would say that overall I was able to do a much wider variety of work.

2. What was the application process like and what was the interview like?  I found out about the FDA internship through PDO’s Government Honors and Internships email.  The application process didn’t seem too difficult, because it only required my resume, cover letter, writing sample, and transcripts—all things I already had prepared from OCI.  I applied fairly early in the semester and didn’t hear anything for months.  I assumed they just hadn’t selected me for an interview when they finally called me to schedule a phone interview.  My interview lasted 30 minutes, and was the most traditional interview I have had in law school.  They asked questions like “tell us about a time when you had to work with a team to come up with a creative solution to a problem.”  It was a bit unexpected and I really had to think on my feet for those 30 minutes to come up with answers to questions like that.

I applied to Ray Quinney & Nebeker through OCI, where I had a 20 minute interview on campus, and a callback interview at the firm that lasted several hours.  I got the impression that they were looking more for a good personality fit than anything else at this point, so the interviews were more like friendly conversations where they were making sure that I was somebody they wouldn’t mind working with.

I accepted with Ray Quinney & Nebeker first, so when the FDA offer finally came through, I decided to ask if I could split the summer.  Both the FDA and the firm were willing to allow me to split, although they both expressed some hesitation in my ability to really get to know the work place and produce enough work product for them to make a decision about a permanent offer in such a short amount of time.

3. What do you think helped you in terms of their decision to hire you (experience, grades, personality)?  All of the above.  I think both the FDA and the firm appreciated that I had four years of nursing experience before I came to law school.  Both the FDA and the firm relied primarily on grades when deciding who to interview in the first place.  After that, it comes down to personality and fit.

4. What did you do day to day?  At both the FDA and Ray Quinney & Nebeker, I spent most of my time doing research and writing, although the firm also placed a large emphasis on getting out of your office and talking to people.  It was great to meet and interact with so many people.

Ray Quinney & Nebeker has a really organized summer program, with a designated point person that attorneys go through to get projects assigned to you.  This was great because she was able to get me projects specifically in areas that I was interested in, and I would stay away from things that I knew weren’t for me.  The firm also provided me with two mentors—both really awesome female attorneys with some health law practice—who were invaluable over the course of the summer.  I had a mentor at the FDA, but the program lacked the structure and organization that I appreciated at the firm.  The firm also had weekly breakfasts with the hiring partner where we would touch bases to make sure the summer was on the right track.

5. Best (and worst, if you want) parts of the job?  The best part of splitting my summer was getting to see some of the differences between government and private practice, and getting a better feel for what would be the best fit for me.  The best part of the FDA was meeting other attorneys with health backgrounds, including doctors and nurses.  99% of people who find out I was a nurse before coming to law school look at me like I must be totally insane to have made that switch, so it was refreshing to talk to others who had done the same and understood.  The best part of the firm was the opportunity to work with so many attorneys on so many different kinds of projects.  I worked on some health law issues, but I also worked on a torts case, an antitrust case, and I did some contractual work.  I really enjoyed the diversity and the chance to dive into so many different areas of law.

The hardest part about splitting my summer is feeling like I needed to work twice as hard as the other interns since I would only be there half as long.  I definitely felt pressure to give both the FDA and the firm enough work product to evaluate so they would feel comfortable at the end of the summer deciding whether to make me an offer or not.  I would also say I had to work harder to get to know people and to allow people to get to know me.  But at the end of the day, I don’t regret splitting and think that it actually was enough time at both locations for the employer and myself to have a good enough sense about each other.

6. What advice do you have for those who are looking at the federal government?  About law school in general—especially for the 1L’s?  I only applied to the FDA on a whim, but if you know you want to work for the government, I would say that you definitely shouldn’t be so narrow in whom you apply to.  The market is still incredibly competitive—top people from law schools all over the country are applying for these jobs, so don’t limit yourself.

For 1L’s, I would say work hard, be friendly, and try not to get caught up in the early rush of craziness.  There’s no need to worry about outlining the second week of school or anything crazy like that.  Just make sure you’re reading all of your cases and paying attention in Legal Methods and things will work out.

J. Mason Kjar, SJQ 2012, Intern, U.S. Dept. of Justice, Tax Division and Summer Clerk, Kirton & McConkie


1. For whom did you work and what did you do over the summer?   I split my summer between two jobs: one at the U.S. Dept. of Justice in Washington, D.C., and one at Kirton & McConkie in Salt Lake City.

For the first six weeks, I worked for the DOJ’s Civil Trial Section of the Tax Division.  They do all the trial court-level litigation for the IRS.  In other words, when the IRS needs civil work done to collect on tax monies owed, but does not want to file criminal charges, it hands the litigation work over to the Tax Division

For the next eight weeks, I worked at Kirton & McConkie.  I was the only summer clerk, so I received work from a lot of different sections in the firm, from Intellectual Property, to Risk Management, to Business Litigation, to Immigration, to Government and Public Utilities, and more.

2.  What was the application process like and what was the interview like, and what do you think helped you in terms of their decision to hire you?  I found out about the DOJ position by looking through the various options in the Government Honors and Internship Handbook, maintained by the U. of Arizona.  I applied for, and was hired, through the Summer Law Intern Program (“SLIP”).  Right now (August) is the time to get your stuff ready to apply, so be sure to check out all the information that the PDO has sent out about the Handbook—if you want a government job, it is a great place to start.  The application itself was primarily an online form and you don’t get a whole lot of opportunity to distinguish yourself.  Make sure that you highlight what makes you a better candidate than other people—for example, I emphasized that I had done very well in Legal Methods, and that I had been working as a volunteer for the IRS since 2003.  They then called me for a phone interview, and then called all my contacts.  After that, they emailed me with a job offer in December.

I found out about the Kirton position through OCI.  I applied and was accepted for an initial interview at the law school.  After I made it through the first round of cuts, I was called back for a lunch interview and series of interviews at the firm.  By that time, I had been through a lot of interviews, and was tired of putting on an act, so I just decided to be myself, warts-and-all.  In fact, during one interview, the attorney and I spent most of the time talking about good novels to read.  I left thinking I had not really made that good an impression because we didn’t talk about “The Law” and because I didn’t try to highlight my achievements, but it turns out that I was hired based on the fact that the interviewers thought I had been the most authentic candidate.

3.  What did you do day-to-day?  My projects at the DOJ were all litigation-oriented.  They included drafting a complaint, an answer, two motions and memoranda in support of summary judgment, a motion and memorandum to dismiss a counter complaint, subpoenas, and a motion and memorandum to incarcerate.  I also assisted trial attorneys during an expert deposition and at a hearing and settlement negotiations in Las Vegas.  My time as a SLIP came quickly to an end, and though the position usually feeds into an “honors hire,” I was not able to explore employment with the Tax Division next year because there is a hiring freeze at the Tax Division.

At Kirton, the scope of the projects was wider and embraced a number of “transactional” projects.  I drafted patent applications, researched memos in preparation for litigation, drafted pleadings and motion memoranda, drafted client letters and alerts, assisted attorneys during court hearings, and even researched and drafted a notice of constitutional challenge for use in the Canadian courts.  The work was all done under a billable hour, which meant I felt more pressure to be efficient than when I was at the DOJ.  But at the same time, I learned to improve the clarity and productivity of my research!  Also in contrast to the DOJ, I went to a lot of lunches and was heavily encouraged to seek out the right partners at the firm in order to secure a job.

4.  Best (and worst, if you want) parts of the job?  The Good: I loved the DOJ—the work was interesting, fulfilling, and came at the right pace.  The lack of a billable hour meant that I could really dig into my research and take the time to craft great pleadings and memoranda.

I also really enjoyed getting a wide exposure at Kirton.  Instead of just litigation work like what I saw at the DOJ, I saw what IP Prosecution work was like, what transactional work consists of, and how many lawyers develop clients.  I also got a good primer on firm politics and networking skills in the legal community.

The Bad: The worst part of the DOJ is that it is in DC.  It was a great city to visit, and me and my wife and four kids had an absolute blast for the short time we were there, but like M’Leah Woodard said in her response in the last Career Brief, the city is crowded, hot, [damn] expensive, etc.  I would hasten to add not very family-friendly (at least downtown).  I hear it is better out in the ‘burbs, but then you face a long, crowded commute.  We decided to pay the price and live downtown because my wife is pregnant and we wanted to make it easy for her to walk with the kids to see the various sights, but if we were to live there long-term we would bring a car and live in the suburbs.

The worst part of Kirton was being the only intern and receiving so much great work and not having enough hours in the day to get it all done.  I suffer from the disability of being a perfectionist, and I let the work and the hours bleed over into my personal life, which made my overall life balance suffer.

The Ugly: See J. Mason Kjar, Picture, supra.

5.  What advice do you have for those who are looking for jobs at firms?  At the Federal government?  Or law school in general?  Firms: Do what everyone says—kill yourself, work long hours, get good grades, try to get published, get on law review, blah, blah, blah.  You know the drill.  Then go to OCI and be yourself.  Having a personality that is likeable, generous, easy-going, and yet a bit OCD and willing to sacrifice will help you a lot.  Oh, and work the network.  Schmooze.

Government: Apply far and wide.  Volunteer for a government agency or some kind of program.  Apply over and over.  I applied as a 1L and a 2L and only got 2 interviews out of nearly one hundred applications.  Luckily the DOJ hired me, but even that was unanticipated.  Once you get an “in,” leverage that contact for all it is worth.

Law School: Destroy yourself as a 1L, especially first semester.  Try not to have a nervous breakdown.  Ask the 2Ls and 3Ls for what worked in each professor’s class.  Seek out old outlines, and then own them—in other words, take what has already been built, and then build it up to a masterpiece, both on paper and in your mind.

Life: Hope that it exists after law school!