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Career Paths: 3L Jamison Shabanowitz on his Summer Working for PEER

Jamison Shabanowitz is a 3L at Washington and Lee. He spent his past summer in Washington, DC working for Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Jamison is the current President of the Public Interest Law Student Association (PILSA) at W&L. This fall, he will serve as an extern at the Southern Environmental Law Center’s Chapel Hill, NC office.

Advocating on behalf of a healthy and safe environment takes many different forms. Some represent plaintiffs harmed by specific local incidents. Others work on a national or global scale and call for better policies on a macro level.

Neither will achieve long-term success unless public employees are able to perform their duties as required by law and enforce environmental law.

Sitting at this nexus of labor and environmental law is Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), my workplace this past summer. PEER is a national non-profit organization based in Washington, D.C. representing local, state, and Federal employees when environmental and ethics violations are committed within their workplaces. The organization provides legal protection for employees reporting potential environmental violations of their employer, covers Freedom of Information Act issues related to environmental protection, and ensures that all public employers follow applicable environmental law.

I discovered PEER while attending the 2013 Equal Justice Works Conference and Career Fair. PEER drew my attention because of the specificity and importance of its functions and also because of the interdisciplinary nature of its intern program.

By “interdisciplinary,” I do not just mean different fields of law, but also different roles a lawyer at a non-profit may perform. For instance, in addition to typical legal intern duties (legal research on topics related to the current caseload, drafting complaints, handling FOIAs, and performing client intake), I dedicated a significant portion of my summer to a second role as an investigator. In an effort to provide resources for the employees PEER serves, I had the task of contacting 11 different Offices of Inspector General within federal agencies to discover if they had implemented new protocols concerning whistleblowers.

Larger organizations, firms, or government agencies would not usually put a legal intern on a task that required the intern to represent them externally, but PEER trusted me to represent its name. I even visited the Department of Justice to talk with members of their Office of Inspector General. Everyone there assumed I served as a full-time “legal analyst” for PEER. Not until after the 90 minute meeting ended did I have to reveal my intern status.

W&L’s curriculum catalyzed my internship experience at PEER. A first-year small section class on Professional Responsibility in particular allowed me to feel comfortable communicating with others in a professional, lawyer-like manner. After one semester of strictly learning black-letter law and researching, it is easy to forget that lawyers play vital roles other than just “researcher.” The Professional Responsibility course in the spring semester reminds us of who we are becoming and what rules of professionalism we are bound to as lawyers. I also had the fortune to have this course as my small section under Professor Jim Moliterno. I developed my persuasive writing and oral advocacy skills in the same subject under his tutelage.

Although W&L offers a labor law class every spring, I did not have a chance to take the class (I opted instead for a seminar on statutory interpretation). Even without the specific academic background, I combined my personal interest in labor and environmental law with the legal training of W&L and had a highly successful internship at PEER last summer. I helped to make bureaucracy work so that better environmental protection and enforcement is attained.