Career Paths: Matt Donahue ’18L
Matt Donahue ’18L, a graduate of George Washington University from Benicia, CA, worked this past summer in the Office of the General Counsel at Oakland Unified School District in Oakland, CA.
How did you find/get this position?
Honestly, I thought about different agencies I might want to work with and Googled them. The District got back to me quickly and I had an internship lined up by mid-January, which was a relief.
Describe your work experience.
The best thing about this internship is that I received substantive legal work on day one. The Office of the General Counsel is a small office in a giant school district (40,000 students), so the work flow is immediate and fairly steady. Because the office focuses on general practice, the work is also quite varied. I wrote memos, conducted research, drafted court orders and responses, and wrote policy guidance documents. Ultimately, I gained experience in areas of law such as special education, contracts, torts, public finance, employment, and public records disclosure.
What were some skills you developed this summer?
The most important skill I gained during the summer was simply confidence in my ability to use my legal knowledge in a real-world context. At the beginning of the summer, it was a little jarring to think that anyone expected me to be able to conduct research and come to any sort of valuable legal conclusion. By the end of the summer, however, I felt much more comfortable giving my opinion and anticipating what needed to be accomplished next. Additionally, I was able to work on my memo writing skills each day, and I feel like that’s invaluable.
What classes or experiences were useful in preparing you for the summer work?
Before attending law school, I was an elementary school teacher for four years. This was very helpful at times when I needed to “talk teacher” with administrators and other school employees, but it is certainly not a required experience. As far a curriculum is concerned, APLP was helpful for due process hearings, and I also drew on many concepts from contract law.
What surprised you about the work you did this summer?
The amount to which the interns were trusted in grappling with substantive legal issues and making recommendations was quite surprising. On my first week in the office, I was assigned as the “on call attorney” for district employees and students who need legal advice. It was very intimidating at first, until I realized I could just say “I’ll get back to you on that,” and ask my boss!
How do you think this experience will shape the rest of your time at W&L Law?
This internship allowed me to better understand which areas of law I am interested in–and which ones I’m not. For example, I loved contract review, drafting, and interpretation because of the structure, but I did not enjoy working to fire people–i.e., employment law. On a less academic note, I also realized how much I appreciate working in a social environment. Sitting alone all day in a cubicle with little interaction gets old quite quickly.