Legal Externships and Internships in the Office of Regional Counsel in Chicago (EPA Region 5)
Externs in Region 5's Office of Regional Counsel typically conduct legal research and write legal memoranda to support enforcement cases brought under statutes including:
- Superfund (CERCLA),
- the Clean Air Act (CAA),
- the Clean Water Act (CWA),
- the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA),
- the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA),
- the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), and
- the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA).
The experience will of course vary depending upon the project assigned to the extern. It is not atypical for externs, in addition to legal research and writing, to:
- attend negotiations and public meetings,
- draft dispositive motions (such as motions for accelerated decision in cases before an administrative law judge), or
- draft requests for information or subpoenas pursuant to statutory authority.
On this page:
Most all the externs at ORC are law school students in their second or third year of study (or between them). We find these students have the training and interests most applicable to the experiences we provide at ORC, and in turn they benefit the most from such experiences. At times there are externships available that do not deal with legal research and writing, and are thus open to undergraduate students, though these are rare. Application procedures for any type of externship are the same.
- For fall and spring, interviews typically conclude about one month before the start date of the externship.
- For summer, interviews start in September and typically conclude in February.
- If an extern wishes to continue working for a second or third semester for ORC, we do ask the extern to reapply.
In order to be considered for an extern position, an applicant should submit
- a cover letter,
- unofficial law school transcript, and
- short writing sample (no more than 10 pages)
by email (preferred) to Jane Lupton (firstname.lastname@example.org), or by mail to:
Jane Lupton, Associate Deputy Regional Counsel
Office of Regional Counsel (C-14J)
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region 5
77 West Jackson Blvd.
Chicago, IL 60604-3590
In order to begin their externship, successful candidates must submit several forms, including:
- an application for government employment,
- a worksite experience form (which requires a signature by the school in which the candidate is enrolled),
- a computer security form, and
- an ethics form.
Externs must be U.S. citizens and are subject to a background check.
Externs are expected to work at least 16 hours per week, and preferably 20 hours per week, during the semester. During the summer, externs work 40 hours per week. To the greatest extent possible, these hours should be in blocks of time (for example, mornings or afternoons four days a week or two eight-hour days a week). We find that less time than that means less interesting and productive experiences for the extern.
Fall, spring, and summer externships are available.
- Fall externships usually start the day after Labor Day;
- Spring externships start after the Martin Luther King holiday;
- Summer externships begin after Memorial Day.
While externship positions do not provide monetary compensation, select applicants may qualify for a paid internship. The number of available paid internships varies annually.
Because we are aware that many externs receive academic credit for their experiences, we work hard to ensure that externships are both beneficial and challenging.
Why should I work for U.S. EPA Region 5?
Region 5 serves the upper Midwest States -- Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Michigan -- and 35 federally-recognized tribes. Region 5 has the largest number of employees -- and the largest legal office -- of all ten U.S. EPA regions. The large number of attorneys (almost 100) in ORC means exposure to a variety of work and cases. These cases are typically brought pursuant to the federal environmental statutes: the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, Superfund, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, the Toxic Substances Control Act, and so on.
The work includes matters arising under the federal environmental statutes. These are the same statutes often covered in the basic environmental law course, so the externship is a chance to put into practice what the extern has already learned (or is learning as the externship proceeds). Region 5 also has one of the strongest enforcement records within U.S. EPA; chances are, a Region 5 extern will work on an enforcement case.
What is the typical externship with ORC like?
Externs perform primarily legal research and writing to support the counseling and enforcement work of the attorneys in the Office of Regional Counsel (ORC). We estimate at least 75% of the work will use the extern=s legal skills. Legal research will usually concentrate on case-specific issues. Legal writing may include:
- legal memos,
- information requests,
- dispositive motions, such as motions for accelerated decision,
- briefs in support letters responding to Freedom of Information Act requests, and
- letters responding to correspondence from members of Congress or the public.
Externs may also:
- attend negotiations,
- attend oral arguments, and
- review agency documents in preparation for litigation.
By far the most common (and most sought-after) externship is placement with a Section (or Sections). A "Section" is an administrative unit within ORC, consisting of about eight or nine attorneys, a section chief, an administrative assistant, and a paralegal specialist. There are eight sections in ORC, four in each of two branches. Each Section (and, generally, every attorney) handles cases under all "media" (air, water, land). In other words, we are not divided up by subject matter area. Therefore, placement in a Section will not preclude an extern from exposure to the full range of assignments. An extern's experience will vary, depending on the cases that are active during the externship. We do try to accommodate an extern's desire to gain experience in certain substantive areas, if possible. However, we cannot guarantee that certain cases will need extern help while the extern is with us.
Are there other externship opportunities?
Yes. There are a second and a third category/type of externship, in addition to the typical externship described above:
- Placement with the Deputy Regional Counsel, often working on longer-term, non-case-specific issues, such as the impact of recent rulemaking or state law developments
- Placement with the Branch Chief for employment law matters, working with attorneys who do personnel work (labor law, EEO, personnel law)
For these two categories, the extern will interview directly with the Deputy Regional Counsel or the Branch Chief for employment law matters. Your application should specify whether you are interested in either of these positions.
When are externships offerred?
Externships are tied to the law school academic calendar, and are therefore available for any of three approximately 12-week to 14-week terms as follows:
- Fall (early September to late November or early December)
- Winter/Spring (mid-January to late April or early May)
- Summer (late May to early August)
What are the minimum requirements?
Externs must work at least 16 hours per week during the winter/spring and the fall terms. Externs must work 40 hours during the summer term. We have found that fewer than the minimum number of hours per week leads to an unsatisfactory experience for both the extern and the office. The extern does not get assignments of real legal significance or interest, and the attorneys in the sections do not feel adequately supported. For this and other reasons, we discourage "split" externships for less than a full term.
To the extent possible, hours worked should be within the ORC office and in blocks of time of at least four hours each (e.g., mornings or afternoons four days per week). The extern may occasionally work fewer than 16 hours per week (e.g., the extern is ill, or must study for a mid-term exam). This is an issue that the extern can work out with the supervisor on a case-by-case basis. While all law students are eligible, the program is highly competitive. The more relevant course work and relevant work experience an applicant has, the greater the chances of our hiring that person as an extern. A solid academic record and good written and oral skills are obviously also key factors.
Who can participate in the program?
The extern program exists through the authority of 5 U.S.C. Section 3111. Only currently enrolled students are eligible. Those not yet accepted into law school, or those who have recently graduated from law school, are not eligible. The only way a government agency may accept volunteer work is when an established academic program sponsors the student. Otherwise, the government agency would be augmenting its appropriated budget in an impermissible manner. An extern is a special type of U.S. EPA employee and must meet certain U.S. government hiring criteria. The applicant must be worthy of trust. We ask externs to agree to abide by the ethical standards for regular government employees, including keeping confidential certain non-public information. Computer security rules require that the student be a U.S. citizen with no criminal record.
Is there an application deadline?
No. Applications are received and considered on a rolling basis. While there are no fixed deadlines for submission, we prefer to make decisions as early as possible. For example, for the summer program, interviews start in the fall, and the program is usually filled by mid-February at the latest.
Would I get paid?
No. The program is voluntary, and does not offer monetary compensation to the participants. We do offer a monthly transit subsidy-- up to $130 per month-- to externs who commute to work using public transportation.
Can I get academic credit, a grant, or work study?
Yes. An extern need not, but may, choose to seek academic credit or funding from her/his law school or another entity for the externship. Any such arrangement would be worked out between the student and the law school or other entity. Our office is willing to take reasonable steps, consistent with our legal authority, to accommodate such arrangements. The fact that the extern is getting credit or getting funding from an outside source does not affect the extern=s placement in ORC, nor does it affect the nature of the assignments for the extern.
Are any paid positions for law students available?
No. We do not presently offer a paid intern program. In the unlikely event we do receive funding for such a program, it would be advertised on USAJobs.gov.
Can externs participate in the program for more than one semester?
Yes. An extern who has completed one externship in ORC may seek another. We encourage externs who have performed well to return to ORC. Externs wishing to return must reapply and will be considered along with the applicant pool for that term.
Can undergraduates participate in the program?
Rarely. Undergraduates may on occasion participate in the extern program. As long as the student is still in school (that is, has not yet graduated), she/he is eligible. Since undergraduates' legal research and legal writing skills are typically minimal, we must take care in considering such applicants. They often can perform paralegal-like functions, such as organizing files in complex (multi-party) litigation, or assisting in discovery. We must first ensure that there is a need for this type of assistance beyond what our paralegals already provide, before we hire someone at this level.
If I am accepted into the program, what's next?
After a selection is made, the applicant must submit to Ms. Mary Ortiz:
- an application for government employment (Optional Form 612)
- worksite experience form which must be countersigned by the law school,
- computer security form and online registration, and
- confidentiality agreement.
The Shared Service Center (SSC) in Cincinnati then reviews and approves these forms. The SSC also conducts a background check.
Will an externship lead to a permanent position in ORC?
No. An externship - even a highly successful one - does not lead to an attorney position in ORC. Externs may apply for an attorney position when advertised, and the ORC hiring committee will consider them. Relevant experience is helpful, but many factors are considered in making hiring decisions.
Does U.S. EPA have a non-discrimination policy?
Yes. U.S. EPA is an equal opportunity employer. The EPA cannot and will not tolerate discrimination based on race; color; religion; sex, including pregnancy, sex stereotyping, gender identity or gender expression; national origin; sexual orientation; physical or mental disability; age; protected genetic information; status as a parent; marital status; political affiliation or retaliation based on previous EEO activity. The EPA also will not tolerate any type of harassment -- either sexual or nonsexual -- of any employee or applicant for employment.
Is the program worthwhile?
Yes! We are very conscious of the fact that many students are receiving academic credit for the externship, and we therefore try to ensure that the experience here is a beneficial one for all students. Our past externs speak highly of the program. We encourage potential applicants to consider us.