2006 PFIG Recipient Danya Atiyeh

UVA Career Center – August 1st, 2006

Danya Atiyeh
College of Arts & Sciences
English
2008 Graduation Year

Internship: US Dept of Justice & International Affairs in in Washington, DC.

Notes on the first week

A week ago, I began my internship at the Office of International Affairs, a part of the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice. Because I want to go to law school, I was very excited to have the chance to find out more about different types of law. I have no idea what kind of law I want to practice, and so I was hoping that this summer, I could learn more about international law, something that really interested me in high school, but that I hadn’t had the chance to pursue.

After three weeks of communications with various government personnel managers, completing intense background checks and drug tests, and pushing through a lot of red tape, I finally received a start date for June 5th. I didn’t really know what to expect. The paralegal with whom I had been communicating had told me a little bit — I was going to be working for the team devoted to South America, the office environment was pretty relaxed, that even though a lot of what they did was paperwork, there were also a lot of exciting opportunities, and that, because the team was so small, even interns would have a chance to do valuable work.

Everything she told me was true. My first day, the paralegal gave me the tour of the building, introducing me to dozens of new people. The attorneys on my team each greeted me warmly and expressed sincere interest in what I had to say. The OIA directors welcomed me to the team — I was told by a paralegal that they attempt to know every intern by name. Over the past few days, many of the attorneys have come to me to ask how I’m doing and to offer their time if I need help or even just want to know more about Department of Justice or the legal system in general. This week, for instance, one of the attorneys offered to take me on a tour of the local and federal courts here in Washington, DC, where he used to work, so that I could have the chance to see a different part of the legal system.

The work I’ve been doing has been mostly interesting, and widely varied. OIA does not prosecute cases directly; rather, we process requests from foreign governments for legal assistance. For example, a foreign government might want the United States to extradite a fugitive, or interview a witness of a crime in the foreign county. OIA directs these requests to the appropriate authorities, and makes sure that they follow through. I’ve actually had the opportunity to be right in the middle of this process, drafting letters to the FBI, the US Marshals Service, US District Attorneys, and the governments of several South American nations. At first I was nearly overwhelmed by the sheer amount of new information to process, but I’m coming to feel more comfortable with the language and processes of the government. I’m looking forward to having the chance to learn even more over the course of the summer!

Midway

I’m now over halfway through my internship, and it’s hard to believe I’ve already been here so long. I’ve learned a lot already, and I still have three weeks to go, but what really amazes me is how many different things I’ve gotten the chance to learn about. Here at OIA, there are a lot of different aspects of international law that we work with on a daily basis—treaties, foreign legal codes, and diplomacy, for example. What is even more exciting, though, is the chance to communicate or even meet with people from these foreign governments, and learn not just about their laws and political systems, but about their cultures. For example, a week ago, I had the opportunity to meet with a representative from the Brazilian Ministry of Justice, who was visiting the United States to take the BAR exam here. She stopped for an afternoon in DC to speak with the attorneys here about several important cases that we are helping Brazil to prosecute. I’d communicated with Ana via email before, but it was absolutely thrilling to have the chance to meet with her in person and learn more about the Brazilian legal system from someone actually working in it.

I’ve had a lot of other exciting opportunities as well, some of which aren’t quite as directly related to learning about law. Since I started work, two new interns and one new attorney have joined our team, and since the paralegals, who are usually responsible for training new team members, have been very overworked lately, I was enlisted to help show the new interns how the office works. Having only been here a few weeks myself, this was sometimes a bit harder than I expected, but it turned out to be very rewarding, because now the three of us have put together a very efficient system for dealing with work, and we hope that, by the end of the summer, we’ll have managed to make a significant dent in the paralegals’ heavy caseload.

Most of the work I’ve been doing in my first few weeks here has been processing foreign requests for legal assistance. Some of them are very routine, but I’ve also had the opportunity to work on a number of very relevant international cases. I’ve looked at cases involving billions of dollars, thousands of kilograms of drugs, and international terrorism. I’ve been able to watch the criminal justice system in action, and help to keep it moving.

As valuable as the experience has been, what has made it most beneficial for me has been the helpfulness and friendliness of all the attorneys involved in my work. Everybody is willing to take the time to explain bits of the legal process to an intern. Some of the attorneys will even send me information related to cases I’m not actually working on, just so that I can learn about subjects I wouldn’t usually have had the chance to be involved with. I’m looking forward to seeing what else I can learn in my remaining weeks here. It’s wonderful to be able to look forward to going to work every day.

Final Reflections

Last week, I finished my internship at the Office of International Affairs. My last week turned out to be one of my busiest, after a week or two that were fairly slow in the last weeks of July. Several attorneys and a paralegal from our office had traveled to Columbia for a two week series of meetings, and with the empty offices, it was much quieter. It was exciting to have everyone finally get back and hear their travel stories.

That wasn't the only thing that made the last week exciting, though. Because, during the time I was there, one attorney left and another took his place, I got to help the new attrorney get settled, and explain a lot of the cases that I had been working on. I also had to go through the entire Brazilian docket, with around 150 cases, and help him organize what needed to be done. I really hope that now, even though I've left, the work I did will be helpful in making the office run more smoothly.

My last week, I also had the chance to communicate, via email, with several employees at the Justice Departments in Ecuador and Brazil, the two countries whose cases I worked on most frequently. After several weeks of waiting for information, I was able to proceed with a number of interesting cases. I learned that it often takes a long time to get anything done when working between governments. The language barrier is often a factor, though many of the people with whom I communicated spoke English, and my Spanish was good enough to be able to read and write emails. More importantly, though, there's always a lag because, typically, everything must be approved by several levels of government. For instance, a state court in Brazil would have to compose a request for judicial assistance, which would then be approved by their central government before being sent here, where it would be sent to OIA's central offices, then assigned to a team, who would then refer it out to the appropriate agency or entity. To get back to the original state prosecutors in Brazil, it would have to go through all of these people again in reverse. Sometimes it's frustrating to have to wait so long for results, but it also makes it all the more rewarding to be able to close a case.

I had a wonderful experience working at OIA. Not only did I learn a lot about law and the legal process, I learned a lot about international relations. I met a number of bright and interesting people from all over the world, and I became more comfortable with my own desire to become a lawyer. In fact, just having the chance to spend my days in downtown DC was a wonderful opportunity. I'm very glad that I was able to intern at OIA this summer.