Works and Days

Public Citizen Litigation: Elaine Andersen, Winter Shadow 2016

On a drizzly morning, the streets were dotted with umbrellas and suit-clad business people desperately holding newspapers above their heads. I realized I wasn’t in Portland anymore. Contra Portland’s laid back, “quirky” vibes, our nation’s capital buzzes with a different energy. The city teems with activity, as the foremost legal and political minds in the country face off daily.

I arrived in DC in early January to spend a week shadowing Paul Levy, a lawyer at Public Citizen. Within the small and highly collaborative litigation group at Public Citizen—a nonprofit whose stated goal is to champion citizen interests before Congress and the Courts—Paul specializes in first amendment, and more specifically internet speech, law, often representing anonymous clients.

I didn’t know what exactly I would be doing prior to my arrival at Citizen. Paul let me know that his caseload is unpredictable and I should come, not prepared for any particular thing, but for anything. Further, I would be working with another intern, Kendra, a 3L at Harvard Law School.

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During the week I spent at Public Citizen, Paul was drafting two briefs: one related to a defamation suit filed by a Georgia dentist against an anonymous YouTube poster and another regarding a researcher attempting to unmask anonymous commenters on a public peer review site. Kendra and I worked with Paul on both of these, gathering relevant documents and sources and performing background research. Though my time in DC was short, I also got to shadow Paul in two moot courts (simulated court proceedings in which lawyers practice and trouble-shoot their arguments before presenting them in court).

On the last day of the shadow, Paul and I went on a tour of NPR headquarters with the DC chapter of Reed alumni. When I worked in the Admission Office and gave tours to prospective students, the future Reedies always made themselves obvious by the questions they asked. Being shown around NPR’s headquarters with Reed alums, that feeling came back in full force. Any time our tour guide paused for questions, and often before she had a chance to, some inquisitive mind would happily chime in.


I’m grateful to have had this experience to learn about public interest litigation firsthand and meet Reedies and other wonderful people in DC. I would particularly like to thank Paul for being so generous with his time and the CLBR for facilitating this opportunity.

Tags: winter shadow, externship, law, legal, litigation, nonprofit, washington dc