The Notre Dame Law School’s Program on Church, State & Society is excited to announce that the Program will award up to three summer fellowships, in the amount of $10,000 each, for the summer of 2017 to students working for a religious institution in a legal capacity.
This is an outstanding opportunity for a Notre Dame law student to get exposure in the area of religious-institutions practice, and explore the many legal career options available that combine church, state, and society.
Possible placements include: (a) the Office of the General Counsel of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, (b) a religious-institution placement of an applicant’s choosing (e.g., a religious charity, educational institution, social-welfare agency, health-care provider, etc.) that is consistent with the goals for the fellowships, (c) the General Counsel for the Archdiocese of Chicago, and (d) the religious-institutions practice of several private law firms around the country.
The Fellowship is primarily intended for first-year students but second-year students may apply as well. Interested students should submit a cover letter, describing their interest and relevant experience and background, a current resume, and – if applicable – a description of their proposed placements, to Prof. Richard W. Garnett, before Feb. 20, 2017.
Last year, 2L Sam Scheuler and 2L Kristina Semeryuk served as Church, State & Society fellows. Sam spent the summer at the Office of the General Counsel of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, D.C and Kristina worked at Bryte Church, a Russian Baptist Church in West Sacramento, California, where there are more than 2,000 church members who are primarily immigrants, including some with first-generation children born in America. I asked Sam and Kristina about their experiences serving as Church, State & Society fellows.
Interview with Sam Scheuler, 2016 Church, State & Society Fellow at the General Counsel of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops
KM: What made you apply for the Church, State & Society fellowship?
SS: I learned about the fellowship through some 2Ls who encouraged me to apply while I was helping out with the law school retreat last January. At that time, Rick hadn’t announced the fellowship yet but I was really excited about the prospect of working with constitutional issues (what 1L doesn’t like con law) during that first summer. So I set up a meeting with Rick, who was my professor at the time, and we talked about religious liberty issues and one particular site he envisioned placing a student: the Office of General Counsel at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). Beyond the constitutional questions surrounding freedom of speech and freedom of religious exercise I was also very interested in working in a general counsel environment since I had already worked for a law firm the summer before law school.
KM: How did you get your job at the USCCB?
SS: During my meeting with Rick, he mentioned an ND Law alum who worked for the USCCB as an Associate GC, and since I had planned to spend half of my spring break in D.C. already, Rick introduced us over email so that I could schedule a meeting with her to discuss my interests in religious liberty. When Rick announced the fellowship application I promptly submitted my application packet, which I believe included the usual documents– resume, transcript, and cover letter, specifically for the position with USCCB’s General Counsel.
Although I had already submitted my application for the fellowship to the Program on Church, State and Society by the time I was out in D.C., my informational meeting with Hillary Byrnes over spring break was just that– informational. There was no formal interview with USCCB in particular, which is probably because the position with USCCB was set up beforehand and they trusted Rick to make the ultimate hiring decision. Regardless, almost exactly a month after submitting my application materials, around Valentine’s Day, I received an email from Rick offering me the position at USCCB.
KM: What kind of work did you do at the USCCB?
SS: During my summer at the USCCB, I worked with 7 attorneys in the Office of the General Counsel. I predominantly worked under the litigation attorney, the religious liberty attorney, the immigration attorney, and Anthony Picarello, the named General Counsel. The issues I worked on ranged from civil procedure issues such as service of process, to the implications of certain FOIA requests for the Conference’s missions to refugees, and even property law-related issues. However, the bulk of my work concerned religious liberty issues. Specifically, I got to read and monitor federal agency regulations and the Conference’s comment letters, and I was also given the task of monitoring certain federal court cases throughout the country and even in the Supreme Court so that I could draft up a memo for the office.
KM: How will your experience at the USCCB shape your career going forward?
SS: Going forward, my experience at USCCB and as a Church State and Society fellow exposed me to the gamut of legal issues facing a lot of general counsel offices at various organizations. From a practical skills perspective, my time within the Office of General Counsel further developed my legal research, legal writing, and time management skills. Most importantly, last summer with USCCB was my first real exposure to the area of administrative law and it confirmed my short-term goal of pursuing a practice in healthcare and my ultimate goal to serve as General Counsel for a religiously-affiliated hospital, or other religiously-affiliated healthcare provider. In furtherance of these goals, I will be working for the Department of Health and Human Services this summer in Washington, D.C.
Interview with Kristina Semeryuk, 2016 Church, State & Society Fellow at Bryte Church, a Russian Baptist Church
KM: How did you find your placement for the fellowship?
KS: I found the placement site idea because that church is in my community. The point of the fellowship was to work in a religious organization. I thought I could write a proposal to help my local church because they did not have an attorney on staff so the CEO dealt with all legal affairs.
KM: How did you prepare your application for the fellowship?
KS: My application emphasized the needs of the church. When I interviewed the CEO he gave a long list of projects that had legal aspects that I could work on. I also emphasized my years of involvement with the church and my community service efforts. This fueled my passion for the project.
KM: What kind of work did you do as a Church, State & Society Fellow?
KS: My major project included building an intranet organizational system for protocols, members meetings, minutes from various committees, and member applications and decisions.
There was also the need to digitalize financial records so they could be easily accessed and utilized for analysis purposes. The church includes over 2000 members, and has a budget of over $2 million, so there was a lot of paperwork to scan and organize, beginning from 1989.
Members of the church travel for missionary trips and musical performances, and the issue of wills and trusts became a relevant topic for questions. I spent time researching attorneys and firms in the area who would be able to work with mostly Russian speaking members. It was interesting to be able to see the packages and prices offered, and to be involved in negotiating for volume and discounts for the members.
KM: What was your favorite part of the fellowship?
KS: My favorite part of the fellowship was helping members who were put in difficult positions and who sought out assistance from the church. One grandfather became involved in a custody issue, and he was grateful that I could translate for him, and explain what the government agencies were saying and willing to do. Another mother sought help because she was having immigration issues, and her husband was stuck out of the country and unable to see his children. Other people came to the church in search of work, housing, and counseling. This prompted me to make a list of nearby shelters, services, and phone numbers that would be useful to travelers and those in need. Being a part of a team that was able to provide some relief to these people was immensely gratifying and rewarding.
KM: What are some the specific projects you worked on?
KS: Some of my projects included creating a proposal to make renting the building for weddings more efficient and easier to follow, including a guidance binder and checklists so that renters were clear what was expected, what needed to be cleaned when they left, what needed to be put back where, and the process for returning the deposit. I had to make sure there was enough legal terminology to protect the church from lawsuits and any mishaps.
KM: How will your fellowship impact you going forward?
KS: The Fellowship allowed me to better understand how much work is really done on theadministrative end of a religious organization. I was able to become really good friends with the church secretary, whom I was able to work alongside on a daily basis. I was able to have a lot of my questions answered promptly, and I really had my eyes opened to the needs of the community, and what it takes to meet those needs. Running a religious organization is a tremendous effort, and I was very humbled to have the opportunity to be part of an organization that does so much to keep the community together, and to have been chosen for this fellowship.