The Next Best Thing to Being an ACLU Staff Attorney

Friday, October 29, 2010

What’s the next best thing to being an ACLU staff attorney?  Being an ACLU legal fellow. As election season rolls around, the end of my year-long fellowship at the ACLU of Washington does as well. A 2009 graduate of Hastings College of Law in California, I’ve been hired by Perkins Coie but deferred my starting date with the firm.

So for the past year, instead of working on commercial litigation, I have had the amazing opportunity to work full-time in the ACLU-WA legal department.  I have gotten a taste of advocacy and educational work, creating a toolkit for farmworkers’ rights.  I have dipped my feet in legislative and policy work in immigration issues.  Most excitingly, I immediately plunged into litigation as a member of the ACLU-WA legal team on the landmark “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” case Witt v. Air Force

And what have I gotten out of it?  Experience.  Inspiration.  Fulfillment.  It’s not every day that a young attorney gets to sue the government on hot- button constitutional issues, or examine witnesses in federal court and talk about gaydar.  

The experience I walk away with after a year at the ACLU is unparalleled. Entrusted with more responsibility as the year progressed, I learned to assert our positions in discovery in drafting motions.  I was in direct contact with our client, with opposing counsel, and with witnesses.  Ultimately, the opportunity to examine witnesses in court proved to be the highlight of my work—much paper-pushing culminating in a moment to publicly elicit a servicemember’s story showing that sexual orientation is a non-issue in military service.  

Professionally, perhaps the best of all was the action behind the scenes—the involvement in strategy conversations and collaboration with our cooperating attorney (that’s ACLU-speak for a pro bono attorney)—that really made this experience unique.  The beauty of collaboration exists in negotiating differing viewpoints and brainstorming together the best course of action.

The inspiration I take from this case manifests itself partly in a newfound respect for our brothers and sisters who devote their lives to defending our country.  And the opportunity to work with colleagues who care deeply about the same issues, and to fight for the equal rights of gay and lesbian individuals, is extremely gratifying.

So come next year, even though I will no longer be able to be a full-time freedom fighter, I will still strive to be the next best thing (after a fellowship)—a cooperating attorney. And I look forward to meeting and offering my support to future legal fellows at the ACLU of Washington. If you’re interested in a fellowship, information on applying is available at

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