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Interning at the DEA: A real legal work experience for Kristina Dahmann ‘13
August 9, 2011
|Kristina Dahmann '13, DEA Intern|
Interning at the Department of Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in Arlington, Virginia, this summer has been a great confidence booster for rising second-year Penn State Law student Kristina Dahmann ’13, who has been continually pushing herself to new heights working side-by-side with attorneys in the Office of Chief Counsel.
“Working at the DEA has been such a rewarding experience because even smaller assignments that may be considered ‘regular’ cases at a different government agency have interesting fact patterns that can end up shaping policy for the entire agency,” Dahmann said. “What appears to be a simple legal research question can affect every single DEA employee, including agents in the field, locally and abroad.”
Her work primarily consists of conducting legal research and drafting memos and litigation documents to prepare for the prosecution of criminals violating the controlled substances laws and regulations of the United States. She has researched a wide range of issues from proper application of the Buy American Act to government defenses for malicious prosecution.
Dahmann has become very familiar with the details of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) by fielding numerous requests as well as drafting a search memorandum to respond to requested information within DEA Headquarters and Division Offices. With the Diversion and Regulatory Litigation Section, she has also had a chance to prepare Orders to Show Cause, Prosecution Memorandums, and the Proposed Findings of Fact for a Post Hearing Brief in connection with administrative hearings about DEA registration applications for license revocation.
Before applying to law school, Dahmann worked for the Volunteer Lawyer Project in Portland, Maine, advising clients on a legal telephone hotline, and performed election law research and analysis for Bowdoin Professor Michael Franz. She also worked at the law firm of Wiley Rein LLP as a legal intern in Washington, D.C., researching government contracts and intellectual property issues.
Education and experience come together
“Working with attorneys at the DEA on diverse legal issues has been a great opportunity to combine my legal education and work experience. Drawing from my prior legal experiences and applying them to the skill sets I acquired during my first year of law school has really helped me to grow,” Dahmann said. “Interacting as a peer has helped me increase confidence in myself and my abilities. It’s a great feeling when I surprise myself by resolving an unanswered legal question.”
“The biggest challenges I have faced are typical challenges every attorney faces, difficult problems with unclear answers. The majority of questions that DEA lawyers receive are answered, ‘Yes, but no. However, in these circumstances ...’. Tackling the conditions on answers can be difficult, but also extremely rewarding. For example, an agent might call inquiring about a proposed action that isn’t legal, but there are ways to legally effectuate what the agent seeks to accomplish. The job of the attorneys at the DEA is to find a way to help the agent legally achieve their end goal,” Dahmann explained.
Working with confidential material also presents a challenge Dahmann added. “The material I work with is sensitive and not being able to talk about the specifics of projects with friends and family is a completely new experience and definitely an adjustment!”