From Our First Summer Clerk in San Francisco
By Sangye Ince-Johannsen
Working at the new Earthrise office in San Francisco this summer continues to be a tremendously valuable and rewarding experience for me. On the first day, my supervising attorney Nina Robertson handed me a fascinating and challenging legal matter to research, centered around the fundamental question of under what circumstances an agency may be compelled to follow through on a commitment it has made.
From that first day of work, through the iterative process of honing my research and drafting internal memos, updating the client, and now the prospect of filing a complaint, this question has provided an unexpectedly insightful lens into everything from administrative law and separation of powers issues, to the complex ways that the cornerstone statutes and landmark cases of environmental law intersect. This case forced me to think creatively both as an advocate and as a critic, assessing the merits of claims that one moment seem impossible—and then, after considering the facts in a different light, seem within reach.
Through a separate matter, I have also enjoyed the opportunity of delving into the Freedom of Information Act, exploring the contours of federal obligations to the public with respect to transparency, and learning what recourse we have when an agency fails to provide information requested under the Act. These questions were especially interesting to me, as I know from past experience that FOIA can be a valuable tool in documentary storytelling as well.
I’m deeply grateful to Nina and the rest of Earthrise for guiding me through this learning process, and going above and beyond any expectation in curating my experience in San Francisco this summer. I got to sit in on meetings with major environmental nonprofits, and travel to a settlement conference between community activists, environmental justice attorneys, and state officials. In a quirky turn, I even sat in on oral arguments at the Ninth Circuit, where the question before the court was whether a monkey can hold copyright to a “selfie” it took. On several weekends, I took time to explore and draw inspiration from some of the very places that environmental advocates before me worked tirelessly to protect.
My summer clerkship experience at Earthrise has been instrumental in crystallizing my 1L education by applying it in a fast-paced setting to real-world issues, and I think it will provide the perfect steppingstone into substantive environmental law this Fall.