Working for a City Attorney’s Office: An Interview with Sherry Batzer, Grand Rapids City Attorney’s Office

City Law Departments/City Attorney’s offices often provide great internship experiences and are one of the few offices that consistently offer interns the opportunity to get transactional experience outside of a law firm atmosphere. A city’s Law Department defends the city when it is sued, provides legal counsel to city offices, offers opinions on legislation, and reviews real estate leases and city contracts, among other things. As a result, city law departments offer a broad variety of experience and are great places to intern. Getting into specifics, I have written much about the City of Chicago Law Department, New York City Law Department, and have interviewed an ND alumna working for the San Diego City Attorney’s Office. These experiences got me thinking about city attorney’s offices in smaller cities in which our graduates are frequently interested such as Grand Rapids.

So last week, I spoke to Sherry Batzer, the Director of the Municipal Affairs Division in the Grand Rapids City Attorney’s office. Sherry heads the internship program in that office and provided some great insight into the office’s very new summer internship program.

The Grand Rapids City Attorney started the internship program a year and a half ago. I asked Sherry how she came to be the person who heads the internship program. She used to work at Cooley Law School but they were forced to engage in staff reductions when they merged with Western Michigan School of Law so she went into private practice for a while before joining the City Attorney’s office. Sherry took over the City Attorney’s internship program because of her experience with students while she was working at Cooley.

Next, I asked Sherry how the office is organized. The Grand Rapids City Attorney has three divisions. Sherry is the Director of the Municipal Affairs Department, which provides legal advice and counsel to the Mayor, City Commissioners, City Manager and all departments, Boards and Commissions of the City. Sherry says of the Division “we do all municipal legal work that is non-litigation.”

The City Attorney also has a Civil Litigation Division, which has its own director. Whenever anything moves to litigation, it moves to that division.
The Civil Litigation Division defends the City, its officers and employees in State and Federal lawsuits and administrative proceedings. Lastly, the City Attorney has a Code Enforcement Division located in the courthouse which prosecutes City ordinance violations.

The City Attorney has 11 attorneys, 5 staff people, and interns.

They take 5-7 summer interns, staging at least a couple of interns who are interested in criminal law in the Code Enforcement Division. The rest of the interns work both with Municipal Affairs and Civil Litigation.

As far as the practice areas they work on, right now land use is huge. Sherry said “we have a huge project now, they’re working on bringing the rapids back to the Grand River for recreational purposes. There is a lot of economic development in Grand Rapids. We’re interested in students that have an interest in those areas. Affordable housing is a big initiative. We’re right on the cusp of having commission approval for a human rights ordinance. We have issues with law enforcement and ICE. Michigan legalized marijuana so we’re dealing with both recreational and medicinal aspects of that. There are cutting edge programs that students could work on here.”

I asked Sherry about entry-level attorney hiring prospects out of law school and she said “The last group that we hired were at the attorney II level because we needed seasoned practitioners. There are always opportunities here and there. Government is one of those fickle things. With this being a growing community, I expect more hiring going forward.”

Sherry said that the experience interning for the City Attorney is a good one because “We’ve got a mature, experienced leadership here. The City Attorney wanted to see to it that seasoned practitioners were here.” As a result, the mentorship is very strong.

The City Attorney takes both 1Ls and 2Ls for summer internships and reviews applications in January and February. To apply send a resume, cover letter, and unofficial transcript to Sherry Batzer,
sbatzer@grand-rapids.mi.us

For the summer, Sherry says they are very flexible with the hours interns can work and that “we value the time that interns can provide to us.”

The City Attorney is also a possible host organization for the Bank of America Foundation Fellowship and Bridge-to-Practice program. If you’re interested in pursuing their office as a host organization for one of those programs, you can email Sherry.

Sherry said of the internship experience in the City Attorney “One of our big objectives is to have all of our students do meaningful work and something that is of value.”

Below is the official summer internship posting:

GRAND RAPIDS CITY ATTORNEY’S OFFICE

INTERNSHIP OPPORTUNITY

Internships available throughout the year

Internships are unpaid – goal is valuable experience,

 academic credit where available

Prerequisites

  • Good academic standing
  • Completion of Legal Research and Writing, Professional Responsibility, or comparable coursework

Additional Experience

Coursework in legal disciplines that will equip interns for various aspects of government law practice is encouraged, but not required

Practice Areas

Municipal Affairs            Civil Litigation               Criminal Enforcement

Legislation                     Ordinance Drafting        Public Health, Safety, Welfare

Law Enforcement           Licensing, Regulation    Administrative Appeals

Utilities, Services            Risk Management          Employment, Civil Rights

Civil Service                   Bankruptcy                    Worker’s Compensation

Taxation                         Contracts                       Economic Development

Real Property                 Planning/Zoning           Historic Preservation

Parks/Recreation           Environmental               Municipal Infrastructure

Housing, Community     Boards, Committees,      Freedom of Information Act,

Development                  Commissions                 Open Meetings Act

Diversity/Inclusion

Application Process

Send cover letter stating internship goals, resume, and current law school transcript to:

Sherry Batzer

Municipal Affairs Director

Grand Rapids City Attorney’s Office

City Hall

300 Monroe Avenue NW, Ste. 620

Grand Rapids, MI 49503

616-456-4028

sbatzer@grand-rapids.mi.us

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