Skip to main content area Skip to main content area Skip to institutional navigation Skip to search Skip to section navigation

Legislative Clinic: Building Networks and Creating Policy Impact in Washington, D.C.

June 27, 2011
Legislative Clinic students with Professor Lou Rulli
Spencer Pepper L'11, Emily Stopa GR’11 L’11, Robert Cooper L'12, Matthew McFeeley L'11, Lou Rulli, Anthony Shaskus L'11, Altin Sila L'11, Katherine Andrews L'11, and Grace Sur L'11

As just one demonstration of the ways in which Penn Law’s Legislative Clinic bridges theory and practice, this academic year the Clinic’s students had their final class in Washington, D.C. – in Vice President Joe Biden's conference room at the Dirksen Senate Office Building, meeting with Law School alumni well versed in the Capitol’s legislative affairs.

On May 5, 2011, Clinic students, led by Louis Rulli, Practice Professor of Law and Director of Clinical Programs at Penn Law, closed out the semester on Capitol Hill with an enlightening discussion of inside tips on legislative advocacy in the U.S. Senate, and received valuable career advice from four legislative staff veterans:  Nicole Isaac L’04, Deputy Director of Legislative Affairs for Vice President Biden;  Drew Littman L’85, Chief of Staff to Senator Al Franken; Alyson Cooke L’ 89, Majority Counsel on the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee; and Martin Paone, Executive Vice President of Prime Policy Group and former Democratic Secretary in the Senate. 

“I learned a great deal from the panelists, particularly about what it takes to become a successful staffer on the Hill,” said Spencer Pepper L‘11. “Encouragingly, the speakers highlighted their Penn Law education as one of the keys to their success. For me, the D.C. class was the culmination of a fun and exciting experience working at the House Budget Committee and my semester as a student in the Legislative Clinic.”

The Legislative Clinic at Penn Law is one of only a handful of legislative clinical programs in the nation devoted exclusively to legislative lawyering and the formation of public policy. Students get first-hand experience through their work at federal legislative placements, as well as through coursework readings and discussions, simulations, and legislative drafting exercises in the classroom.

During the course of the semester, students balanced out a weekly seminar at Penn Law with travel to Washington D.C. two days each week to work, through externships, on legislative matters at the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senate Finance Committee, and House Budget Committee, and in the offices of elected members such as U.S. Senators Robert Casey, Frank Lautenberg, and Jack Reed, and Representatives Gregory Meeks, Christopher Murphy, and Diana DeGette. 

After this year’s final class on Capitol Hill, Biden senior staff member Nicole Isaac conducted a tour of the Vice President's ceremonial office in the Capitol for the students before they returned to Philadelphia.

“The final class was a great close to a busy and exciting semester in which Penn students contributed significantly to the work of Congress, while also experiencing first-hand many difficult challenges inherent in the legislative arena,” stated Professor Rulli.

“For me, the meeting was a chance to hear about how to build a successful career in Washington from those who have done it, and to connect with Penn Law alumni who are ready and willing to help those of us who are about to graduate,” said Matthew McFeeley L’11. “I spent the semester working in the offices of a Senate committee and it was interesting [in this final class] to see how our alumni used their legal education to comprehensively advise members of Congress - serving at once as political strategists, policy analysts, procedural experts, negotiators, and legislative drafters.”

Grace Sur L’11, who served in an externship in Senator Lautenberg’s office this semester, noted, “It was an amazing experience because it was a chance to learn firsthand how our federal government works.” Because each student in the Legislative Clinic had a unique experience working with Senators, Representatives, or for Congressional committees, “we each brought a very interesting and different perspective to the table when we discussed different issues related to Congress, such as how to draft legislation and what the role of a lawyer is on the Hill.”

For Emily Stopa GR’11 L’11 it was “a privilege” to talk with Penn Law alumni working at high levels in Washington, and “to hear about the joys, triumphs, and life-long relationships that come with the career, as well as the disappointments and sacrifices. The meeting definitely gave me a more well-rounded perspective on the life of a Congressional staffer, and underscored the advantages of having a thorough understanding of the legislative process."

The Clinic’s externships provide a range of educational experiences, such as learning how the Cloak room works or how different Senators sign onto a resolution or proposal.

“I learned the most from attending committee hearings and staff briefings and writing memos for my legislative aides,” Sur said. “For example, when [Senator Lautenberg’s] legislative aide for environmental issues took me through the process of proposing a bill and promoting it in committee, I was amazed at how much work went into the process. It was also incredible to see how strategic members of Congress have to be, from the very words he or she used in a one-page Dear Colleague letter to garner co-sponsors, to the timing of presenting an issue or bill in committee.”

Anthony Shaskus L‘11, who interned in the office of Congressman Murphy, found that he “developed a firm understanding for the inner workings of Congress,” he said, and “made relationships that will carry on long after.”

For Altin Sila L‘11, his legislative experience brought the unexpected. “I had some amazing experiences that I didn’t expect. I sat feet away from people like Ben Bernanke, Mike Mullen, and Robert Gates as they testified at hearings, and I was able to meet Justice Breyer and the Turkish Ambassador to the United States. The staff gave me assignments they thought were substantive and thought to include me on meetings and events they thought I would find interesting.”

Altin added: “I feel that I have made some great contacts that will help me accomplish that. This has been a great way to conclude my legal education and begin my career, and I’m truly grateful for the opportunities that the Clinic afforded me.”

Legislative Clinic students and Penn Law alumni
Doug Penrose L'11, Matthew McFeeley L'11, Katherine Andrews L'11, Emily Stopa GR’11 L’11, Drew Littman L'85, Alyson Cooke L'89, Nicole Isaac L'04, Martin Paone, Altin Sila L'11, Robert Cooper L'12, Grace Sur L'11, Anthony Shaskus L'11, and Spencer Pepper L'11