Distance externships have offered Gonzaga Law students opportunities to work around the country while completing their legal education. For recent graduate Daniel Heckman, an externship during his 3L year led him to Washington DC, working for Senator Lisa Murkowski from his homestate of Alaska. Heckman is obviously passionate about the work he is doing, and talking to him about the experience feels a bit like the roller coaster ride of a day in D.C. Heckman took a few minutes during his final semester to share with the community his thoughts about the Externship experience.
Tell us about your externship
I am externing for Senator Lisa Murkowski this semester in her Washington DC office. Senator Murkowski is the senior senator from my home state, Alaska. She is currently serving in her second full term in the US Senate after being reelected in 2010 via a write-in campaign, becoming the only Senator in 50 years to win a seat by that method. She currently serves on the Health, Labor, Education, and Pensions Committee, the Committee on Indian Affairs, the Committee on Appropriations, and is the Ranking Member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
As the legal fellow in her office, I do work on a variety of issues relevant to our state and country. They have ranged from gun control, immigration, the equal rights amendment, and campaign finance reform to issues involving the Army and Air Force in Alaska, women in the selective service, amendments to the senate budget, and judicial and executive nominations including Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel. Working for the office’s senior counsel, I also work on the issues that cross his desk and provide support to our office’s two military fellows and six legislative assistants as needed.
What does your average day look like?
My average day is not average at all. There is never a day that is like the one that came before. I usually see what my supervisor has going on that day and work my schedule around him. I have my own issues to work on and have my own meetings, but sometimes he has me going off to briefings or he has me take meetings on his schedule. Sometimes I sit in on his meetings just to observe and comment afterwards. But with so many issues that we are facing as a country and a state, there isn’t time to have prolonged strategy sessions. Of course, all of this is contingent on the notion that we’re not going to have any last minute “surprises” which is going to affect the Senator’s schedule, and thus, our schedules. It’s always exciting to go into the office, knowing what you have to do, but also being at the pulse of current events, and adjusting your assignments to fit accordingly.
What most excites you about your externship?
It sounds cliche to say everything, but it’s true. I love being in Washington DC. It is an awesome feeling to see the US Capitol as I go to work and to walk its corridors of power. My supervisor has been very encouraging and has treated me as a fully fledged member of the staff, giving me responsibilities on issues that people read about in the news, and teaching me constantly about how politics and law intersect in Washington DC. Interacting with the Senator and her staff on almost a daily basis has been a real experience.
Not too many law students can say that they have written inter-office memos for their U.S. Senator that she has made comments on personally. This is not a typical externship experience that people choose to have. To work in the legislative branch of government provides me with a different view of how the law works for us and how we as attorneys influence the law. I have a front-row seat to our law-making process, and however negative people view it or the functionality of Congress, it is a show that I enjoy watching.
How do you think an externship has helped your legal education?
It is very smart for an externship to be a required part of one’s legal education. However challenging it can be intellectually and mentally, law school becomes very repetitive as far as routine and class structure goes. Wherever one chooses to extern, be it in the clinic or in Washington DC, it gives one the opportunity to step outside of the setting of a law school class and be in an environment where have hands on, real-life, real-consequence, experiences. It gives you the opportunity to learn from people who have been there before and are in a position to teach you many things.
This externship in DC has helped my legal education immensely. I have been able to use almost everything I have learned at Gonzaga Law School, but have also learned how to apply the law in an artfully contentious field like politics. That is something I couldn’t have learned at Gonzaga. I think that by choosing this externship, it has made me a better student of the law and a better worker. It is amazing that the things I learned in criminal procedure, constitutional law, civil procedure, and torts are the basis for the analysis that I do on some of the issues I mentioned above. It has been the perfect blend of law and policy that I was seeking when I decided to extern here.
Honestly, this is the best decision I have ever made. period. Working on these issues, interacting with interesting people, seeing law and issues be discussed on a national level on the floor of the US Senate about 10 minutes from where my work area is and being in an environment where I feel like I am working for something beyond me has truly been the perfect way to cap my legal education.
Where do you hope to go from here?
I’ll tell you when I get there. While it is easy to say that I am living my dream job and would like to turn this into a long career, I need to be mindful of the current job market that exists for newly minted attorneys in an economy that is still very much in recovery mode. There are opportunities both in Alaska and Washington DC that I am exploring at this time and hope to land a job where I can use all that I have learned.