The Exclusive Newsletter for the Paralegal Community.

Paralegal Life: A Paralegal on Capitol Hill

At 8:45 a.m. on hot summer days, you can find hundreds of interns, like myself, rushing off the blue and orange line trains of the Capitol South Metro station in Washington, D.C. It is here, where congressional interns begin their day, with copies of various newspapers, like the Washington Post in hand, while proudly wearing their intern badge, dubbed the “VIP Pass” by many. As we step off the platform, we settle-in for another nine-hour long journey on Capitol Hill for a day of answering phones, responding to constituent letters, giving Capitol Tours, attending committee hearings and completing legislative research on policy issues.

On one particular day, upon my immediate arrival into the Rayburn House office building, fellow colleagues and interns greet me. As I walk into our kitchen to put down my purse to make myself a cup of coffee, suddenly a congressional staff member appears and announces loudly, “Hurry up interns! Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen needs you all to meet her in the Capitol right now to assist her with the President of Liberia.” It was not even 9:00 a.m. and not only was I in shock that I was going to meet the President of another country, but I was extremely excited that I would finally have the opportunity to be present in a foreign affairs meeting with both the Congresswoman and the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize recipient. This was just another day in the life of a congressional intern.

Prior to beginning this internship, I remember the various feelings and thoughts that were running through my mind. I was nervous about my encounters with the smartest and most powerful people in the world. Would I be able to keep up in conversation? I also felt excited about the knowledge I would be gaining regarding our government and its inner workings. What exactly happens in Congress? I looked forward to networking and making new friendships. And I was somewhat concerned - almost scared that I would see things in the government that I wish I had not known before. But mostly, I felt proud for my accomplishment in attaining such an amazing opportunity.

Throughout my time at the U.S. House of Representatives, I worked closely with Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen’s amazing staff and interns, who welcomed and opened me to the process of policy-making on Capitol Hill. I also spent quality time with the Congresswoman herself, affectionately and respectfully referred to as “the Boss”. I never thought I could have so much fun laughing and reminiscing about life in Miami with the Congresswoman while sipping on a cup of Bustelo Cuban coffee. Nevertheless, it is the background knowledge and insight, which I have been exposed to, that has proven to be invaluable. I have had the chance to discuss policy issues on education and immigration with the people who actually write these bills. Likewise, my attendance at committee hearings and briefings has not only been informative and insightful, but has introduced me to the world of lobbying.

Despite all that I have learned, I have come to realize that working in Congress is no “piece of cake.” Although it is fascinating to work in a majestic white building with “secret” underground tunnels, one cannot help but sense the responsibilities that lie within those walls. Unlike a paralegal, which assists an attorney in the use and interpretation of the law to defend an individual, a congressional staff member assists a Congressman in making laws based on the support and voices of millions of constituents. In other words, the pressure on a Congressman can in no way be compared to that of an attorney. These men and women have the duty of making the best possible decisions, under the pressure and eye of the nation, on policies that will hopefully benefit and help shape for them a prosperous future.

In this internship, I have come to understand the historical importance of law, more specifically, the process by which it takes to pass a bill and how it affects us today. It has been interesting to be on the other side of the fence. Even as a working individual in the legal field, I took for granted the perseverance our chosen representatives must have in order to take an idea, put it on paper, meanwhile, convincing others to agree. Though I can sympathize with citizens on their current views toward Congress, I have come to respect and admire these public servants for their dedication and passion for law and for the people they represent. Like in any career, there is always a catch or double-edged sword. In Congress, an era of highly competitive politics has emerged, where every flaw and move is exposed and analyzed. In essence, it should be no surprise why politicians find it is extremely challenging to govern, or simply put, to do their job.

I have truly learned and done it all on Capitol Hill. From answering phones to giving countless tours, I have looked at this experience as time gained. Like many others, working as a congressional intern has helped me refine my plans for the future. In fact, I have already been offered a position to help assist in writing policy for a committee in the Senate. A wise person once told me, “take full advantage of every opportunity and immerse yourself in all that you do” - words that I have lived by during my congressional internship, and words that I followed at start of my career as a paralegal. I highly encourage this opportunity for anyone who has a love for the law. All you need is part ambition, part determination, and some really good ballet flats (for you ladies) to conquer the Hill.

Christine Villarreal is currently a full-time graduate student in the Paralegal Studies Program at George Washington University where she is attaining her Master’s degree. She is the President of the Paralegal Student Association (PSA).