An externship with a federal agency helped two students begin their final year of law school with a valuable skillset.
Jamie Crestfield and Christian Wilson worked for the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) regional office in Pittsburgh over the summer. Their efforts focused on taking witness affidavits and conducting legal research for a large unfair labor practice case.
In the process, they also gained experience navigating a complex administrative legal system — a job skill that is needed in a variety of fields such as healthcare, government and energy law.
Crestfield and Wilson began law school with aspirations in sports law and that led them to take labor law classes. Some aspects of sports and labor law are especially alike when it comes to collective bargaining and dealing with unions.
“When I found out about the labor and employment law concentration at WVU Law, something just clicked and I knew that’s what I wanted to do,” said Crestfield. “I’ve always known I wanted to work in sports and entertainment law, and labor law is a logical step towards that because they are so similar.”
Not coincidentally, Crestfield and Wilson have found another way to combine their interests in sports and labor law. She is secretary of Labor Law Society and president of Sports and Entertainment Law Society. He is president of Labor Law Society and vice president of Sports and Entertainment Law Society.
Crestfield’s and Wilson’s jobs with the NLRB were part of WVU Law’s Federal Agency and Judicial Externship course. It gives students the opportunity to apply their legal training in a professional setting.
Externship students meet regularly with their professor and complete a research paper and reflective writing assignments for course credit.
Crestfield and Wilson found their NLRB externship to be very fulfilling.
“Being well-prepared by taking labor law classes before this experience really helped us understand the law and the structure behind the work the NLRB does,” said Wilson. “Being able to ask the right questions and understand the labor law claims based on facts the witnesses gave us allowed us to help the NLRB, and our clients, more than we expected.”
Professor Anne Marie Lofaso oversees WVU Law’s labor and employment law concentration and she helped secure the NLRB externships for Crestfield and Wilson. Before teaching, Lofaso worked at the NLRB for 10 years.
“I’ve tried to create opportunities in addition to our law clinics to provide experience I think will be valuable to anyone who wants to practice labor and employment law,” she said.
The NLRB is a natural fit for the externship program because part of its mission as a federal agency is to educate law students in order to serve the public, Lofaso explained.
“Law takes a lot of practice,” she said. “These opportunities allow students to, in a non-threatening setting with people who are already inclined to help, get through their first experience in the legal field and gain confidence that will smooth the transition from law school into the actual practice of law.”
For Wilson, the NLRB externship was his first experience practicing law independently.
“We got to do more hands-on work than we anticipated,” he said. “The attorneys at the NLRB gave us some great guidance, while at the same time letting us have our independence to go on our own to contact everyone, schedule everything and gain experience doing legal research and taking affidavits.”
Understanding the affidavit process is one of those transferrable lawyering skills Crestfield and Wilson developed at their externship.
Though similar to a deposition used in trials, an affidavit is not as adversarial because the opposing party is not present when a witness gives a statement.
Crestfield says taking witness affidavits from both sides in an unfair labor practice case has given her an advantage if she ever works as a trial attorney. The experience also helped her understand better how to be a part of a process that takes into account all parties involved in a case.
“Labor law is a great field for learning how to remain neutral in the face of adversarial proceedings because, ultimately, the relationship between the parties is completely different from other kinds of contractual arrangements,” she said. “A lot of companies and unions have decades-long relationships. It’s really one of the areas of law where you need to be able to maintain peace, and I think that’s something that people lose sight of when it comes to the law.”