My Internship with the NCDOJ: A Transformative Experience

By Abigail Jenkins Abigail, a white woman with curly red hair, wears a black blouse.

In Summer 2023, I had the opportunity to intern with the Education Division at the North Carolina Department of Justice. I was initially drawn to the internship because of my background in education. Before law school, I was a high school history teacher in North Carolina public schools for six years. For those who know me, it goes without saying that public service and public education are deeply important to me.

The Education Division at the NCDOJ defends North Carolina’s public institutions of higher education in civil actions. Higher education law was interesting to me, as I came to law school from a career in secondary education. The range of cases that the Education Division handles is vast. Although education law may sound niche, there are so many types of law that an education lawyer confronts. Educational institutions at all levels serve the people of North Carolina in ways far beyond merely educating the next generation (as if that is not a high enough task on its own).

Schools provide countless jobs including jobs for administrators, teachers, counselors, coaches, janitors, psychologists, chefs, bus drivers, nurses, police officers, technology specialists, translators, and the list goes on. Schools provide employee benefits and insurance, meals, after-school childcare, special needs care, health care, transportation, shelter, extracurriculars in sports and arts, and, of course, education. Education law is a dynamic and exciting field because education encompasses all major facets of society. During my short internship, I saw everything from employment and contract issues to constitutional and civil rights questions.

Another aspect of the NCDOJ’s work that appealed to me is litigation. I am drawn to litigation practice because it provides an opportunity to be hands-on with the law and clients. Litigation is fast-paced, and the attorneys in the Education Division are always researching and continuing to learn. I had the opportunity to observe and participate in all phases of pre-trial litigation, from discovery and depositions to filing briefs and attending hearings. I even had the opportunity to watch Solicitor General Ryan Park moot an oral argument and subsequently give the oral argument at the North Carolina Court of Appeals. The NCDOJ handles so many interesting and important cases, and I learned so much during my internship.

In addition to allowing interns to learn about cases, conduct research for the state’s defenses, and observe litigation activity, the NCDOJ provides many other experiences for its interns. We went to lunch with Attorney General Josh Stein, toured the State Highway Patrol facilities, and visited the Court of Appeals for oral arguments. The interns in the second half of the summer also toured the state prison and the State Crime Lab. Additionally, the interns in the second half of the summer had the opportunity to participate in a moot court competition, allowing interns to hone their writing and oratory skills. The internship program at the Department of Justice provided a well-rounded view of North Carolina’s government. There are many branches of the North Carolina government that need and deserve good attorneys. There was constant emphasis on the importance of the NCDOJ’s work to protect and defend North Carolina’s people, institutions and essential services.

Of all the experiences I had during my internship, the one that had the most profound impact on me was attending a hearing on a motion to dismiss. The case at issue had been brought against the state by a pro se plaintiff. My eyes were opened to a whole new side of the justice system. For the first time, the immense power of a lawyer’s job resonated with me. With that power also comes a duty to serve those people and entities in the community that cannot afford legal services. My experience preparing for and attending this hearing has inspired me to work in a pro bono clinic during my law school career. A clinic is not something I had given much thought to before law school, but it is now something I wholeheartedly intend to participate in. I am grateful that this internship opened my eyes and inspired me to work with legal clinics in the future. It is easy to overlook the privilege of understanding the justice system. I believe it is so important that lawyers use their knowledge and training in ways that help foster a more equitable justice system.

My internship at the Department of Justice was invaluable both personally and professionally. The connections I made with the attorneys and my mentor have already transformed my network within North Carolina’s legal community. The network of interns who worked at the DOJ last summer was incredible. My internship connected me to other law students in North Carolina and beyond. It was a bonus to find wonderful companionship in the talented and qualified interns I worked with, and it was an honor to work alongside them and learn from and with them.

I strongly encourage those considering an internship with state government to research and explore all of the areas where a legal internship is available. You may be surprised to find that there is a government internship for virtually any interest. There are internships in everything from environmental law to consumer protection. Outside of the Department of Justice there are opportunities with the state courts, the governor’s office, and the state legislature. The options are endless and there is likely an internship that will allow you to learn about whatever facet of law piques your interest. The connections you will form during an internship in the government are unmatched. I believe an internship with the state government provides exposure to a network of interns and attorneys that you will not find anywhere else. It was rewarding to see the impact that the Department of Justice attorneys have on educational institutions. DOJ Attorneys provide meaningful and critical services to the people of North Carolina. I know this work would be fulfilling as a practicing attorney.

Abigail Jenkins is a second-year law student at Campbell Law School. Abigail received a $1,000 scholarship from the NCBA’s Government & Public Sector Section to support her internship with the North Carolina Department of Justice, Education Division in Summer 2023. Each year, the GPS awards one or more scholarships to law students who show demonstrated interest in public service and who work in an unpaid summer internship in a federal, state, or local government office in North Carolina.