By Claire Wiltse
Fighting for civil rights can look like… legal research in an office?
My name is Claire Wiltse and I am a rising 3L at SLU LAW. I came to SLU LAW because of my passion for public interest law. Before law school I worked in a domestic violence shelter as a case manager, and last summer (and school year) I worked with Land of Lincoln in Alton, Ill., on domestic violence order of protection cases. Last year I took some interesting employment law classes and decided to work towards an Employment Law concentration.
This summer my desire to learn more about public interest law and my interest in employment law brought me to Washington, D.C., where I am lucky to be interning at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The EEOC celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, as it was created by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC enforces Title VII by investigating claims of employment discrimination, participating in conciliation attempts with employers, litigating discrimination cases where conciliation fails and appealing decisions or participating in appellate level cases via amicus briefs. The EEOC also publishes workplace guidelines and tips to educate and decrease discrimination in the workplace.
As an agency, the EEOC impresses me mainly because of the passion of the people that work here. Repeatedly, I encounter EEOC attorneys with career dedication to the agency. One day in the elevator I met an attorney who told me he had worked at the EEOC for over 40 years. I asked him why so many attorneys have such long careers at the EEOC, and he responded, “Because if you want to work for civil rights, there’s no better place. All of us here would be doing this type of work for free on the side of our job. But working here we get to do that work and get paid.”
His attitude, being grateful to work on civil rights, echoes throughout the halls. Everyone I meet is passionate, friendly, compassionate and intelligent.
Specifically, I work in the Office of the General Counsel, in Appellate Services. There are EEOC offices around the country that litigate trials, but if a case should be appealed, the case goes to the headquarters in DC to the appellate attorneys. My day-to-day work consists primarily of researching (sometimes obscure) legal issues that the EEOC would want to highlight on appeal. Appellate research can be difficult, because many of the arguments are new and therefore there may be less available controlling case law.
In addition to research, I help attorneys draft. I’ve had the opportunity to work on amicus briefs, which has been a great learning experience and growth for my legal writing. I didn’t fully comprehend the amicus process before this summer. Finally, probably the most exciting part of my weeks are moot arguments. Before attorneys argue in front of the different Circuit Courts, our office puts together a moot court. Three attorneys act as judges, the lawyer makes her argument and interns observe. It is similar to oral arguments in first year LRW, but much more impressive.
D.C. is filled with ambitious, young people and the city has a vibrant energy. The Federal Bar Association in D.C. offers an intern program that offers different opportunities for interns at federal agencies to visit and tour other agencies and learn about the different types of work for attorneys. I plan on visiting the Department of Justice, the Department of Education (civil rights) and the Library of Congress.
I’m grateful for the opportunity to gain an insight into how the government works and observe the work of intelligent, passionate, hard-working attorneys. It’s exciting to see the impact of various cases – for example, watching CNN report about the recent EEOC v. Abercrombie decision after talking about it at my internship. I would recommend a summer in D.C. to any SLU student interested in public interest law, policy or politics. You can learn so much more from being here and observing than you can absorb from a book!