Celebrate Pro Bono: Student Public Interest Work Pt 3

Leading up to National Pro Bono Week (October 23 – 29), UW School of Law celebrates our students’ public interest and service work. In this series, students share a firsthand account of their meaningful summer work experiences.

Elliott Okantey

I spent the summer after my 1L year as a Legal Extern for the Employment Section of the Seattle City Attorney’s Office. My interest in labor and employment law and my interest in public service led me to this externship.

My supervising attorney told me that I was externing during an unusually busy summer. A case she was overseeing had just entered the deposition phase at the start of my externship. I observed numerous depositions, discussed strategy for deposing and defending a witness, and analyzed the transcripts for content that might support the City’s anticipated pre-trial motions.

In addition to helping prepare for and observing a mediation session between the City and an employee, and also I observed two trials. I was able to observe jury selection, pre-trial motion arguments before a judge, direct and cross-examination of witnesses, and the post-trial phase after an adverse judgment. I was able to process what I was seeing at trial and how a given day’s trial proceedings might impact the rest of the trial through many conversations with Assistant City Attorneys.

In addition to observing depositions, trials, and the mediation, I kept busy with research projects that expanded my understanding of employment law and the law in general. For instance, I researched the types of workplace racial discrimination claims that survive summary judgment, and my conclusions will form part of the City’s argument in a motion for summary judgment in a current case. My most significant project was researching, planning, and leading a 90-minute training session for 40 human resources managers at the City of Seattle. The training session presented four recent state and federal court rulings that change how courts will consider race-based employment decisions, the extent to which employers must accommodate employee religious practices, and how courts analyze claims of age, race, and pregnancy discrimination.

I was glad to sharpen my research skills and observe legal proceedings, but the externship experience would not have been as positive were it not for the incredible attorneys, paralegals, and legal secretaries I worked with. They demonstrated a devotion to providing excellent legal representation, were cognizant of the role they play in ensuring a well-functioning city government, and were always available to chat with me about their work, their career paths, and what I might be able to learn to inform my own career decisions. They were always willing to answer my questions, which allowed me to maximize this experiential learning opportunity. As a 2L, my legal career has barely begun, but wherever I go in my career, I’ll know that my summer as a legal extern at the City Attorney’s Office helped me get there.