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Environmental law students receive coveted summer internships

April 24, 2012
Robert Johns (left), Nick Ranke, and Katie Okonowski

DETROIT (April 24, 2012) — Three Wayne State University Law School students in the Transnational Environmental Law Clinic have received highly coveted internships this summer, giving them the opportunity to use the experience they’ve obtained in the classroom and the clinic.

Robert Johns will be working with the Michigan Attorney General's Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture Division in Lansing. He will be doing legal research and writing, assisting with depositions and discovery, and providing other legal assistance to the State of Michigan regarding environmental matters. In the fall, he will be interning part time for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) in Lansing.

Katie Okonowski has an internship with Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) legal department in Region 4, which encompasses the entire southeastern U.S., including the Virgin Islands. She’ll be working in Atlanta on legal issues surrounding cleanup of polluted sites under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and helping any prosecutions the department is handling under the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act.

Nick Ranke will intern with the legal staff at the MDEQ, in conjunction with the Department of Natural Resources, the Attorney General’s Office, Administrative Law Judges and the Department of Agriculture. The nature of his work will depend on what issues are pending for the MDEQ at the time.

“Having three Transnational Environmental Law Clinic students placed in very competitive summer positions demonstrates the growing strength of Wayne Law’s environmental course offerings and the importance of gaining practical legal experience in the clinic,” said Professor Nick Schroeck, director of the Transnational Environmental Law Clinic. “We’re proud of the work that Katie, Nick and Robert did while in the clinic, and I’m sure they will continue to impress at their positions this summer.”

Johns is especially eager to use what he’s learned at Wayne Law in a real-world setting. “My internships will definitely put my textbook knowledge to work,” he said. “These are real departments handling real issues that affect real people's jobs and lives.”

All three students credit their work in the Wayne Law Transnational Environmental Law Clinic with helping them get these internships.

“The EPA decision committee was impressed by the environmental law clinic's focus on the Great Lakes, because many of the issues we worked on involved more than just Michigan,” said Okonowski. “The real-life issues I dealt with in the clinic matched up with the practical experience they were looking for.”

Ranke added that his work at the clinic provided him with a unique experience and knowledge relating to environmental law that he could talk about in interviews. “I know the clinic experience was particularly helpful in my interviews,” he said. “The interviewers were very impressed with my ability to talk in depth about an issue they were familiar with. My clinic experience and focus showed the MDEQ that I would be dedicated to working hard on the legal issues they would face this summer.”

“The professional skills that Transnational Environmental Law Clinic students obtain while working on environmental policy and litigation helps set them apart from other law students and prepares them for careers in the field,” Schroeck said. Clinic students hone their legal research and writing skills while working on behalf of Great Lakes Environmental Law Center clients. “Our students do the type of work, like drafting legislation and filing briefs in state and federal courts, that will help them be effective attorneys after graduation,” he said.

These students believe their summer internships will be a tremendous benefit in starting their careers.

“I'm hoping to apply for a government position after I graduate, particularly in the environmental field, or look for a job with an environmental non-profit,” said Okonowski. “Interning with the EPA is a great way to make more connections, and it gives me a greater chance at landing a government position after graduation.”

“The networking and experience will be very important,” Ranke said. “Most importantly, knowing how the government operates will be beneficial wherever I choose to work in the future when dealing with environmental regulation. It is an asset I can bring to my future employer,” he added.

Johns also believes his extracurricular work was valuable in finding an internship. “Many doors have opened up because of my position as president of the Environmental Law Society (ELS) at Wayne Law,” he said. “My initial contact with the Attorney General's office was in my capacity as ELS president. I was searching for a government attorney to join our speaker panel event. I attribute the clinic and this networking to later landing the position.”

The Transnational Environmental Law Clinic is the first of its kind in the nation and gives students practical experience on a range of issues, from climate change and clean energy to water protection and environmental justice. In partnership with Windsor Law, it teaches students the skills and strategies needed to affect environmental policy in all branches of state and federal government. Students learn about current environmental policy challenges and opportunities, and explore these issues from multiple perspectives. They participate in the lawmaking process by preparing policy papers and formal legislative testimony, commenting on rulemaking and permit decisions, and engaging in judicial review and enforcement litigation. Students gain practical experience by working with the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center.

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