Internships/Externships & Law Graduate Internships

The International Section of the NOAA Office of General Counsel provides internship and externship opportunities for law school students and law school graduates in the spring, summer, and fall. We are a workplace that is firmly committed to increasing diversity and creating an inclusive work environment where everyone feels valued and experiences a true sense of belonging. This commitment is agency-wide and institutionalized in NOAA’s policy on Diversity and Inclusion.  As part of NOAA, we are also guided by and committed to the Agency’s Policy on Gender Identity Protections.

In the past, interns and externs in the International Section have engaged in research and writing and attended – in person, by phone, or by video teleconference – NOAA client meetings and interagency working group meetings. The International Section strives to ensure that each intern and extern has an opportunity to complete a minimum of one substantial writing assignment. The ideal candidate will have strong research and writing skills as well as a demonstrated interest in and prior exposure to international environmental law, ocean law, and the Law of the Sea.

Internship/Externship Application Process

  1. Who may apply? We prefer to hire interns who are either second or third-year law students, but we consider applicants who have finished their first year of law school. We have also had successful applications from L.L.M. students as well as from law student graduates. Applicants must be U.S. citizens.
  2. How can I apply for an internship or externship with your office? Submit a cover letter, resume, official or unofficial transcript, references, and a short writing sample of no more than two pages. Please submit all requested materials to our Google Internship Application Form offsite link.
    - The application deadline for spring internships/externships is September 1.
    - The application deadline for summer internships/externships is December 1.
    - The deadline for fall internships/externships is May 1.
    We encourage you to submit your application as far in advance as possible of the time you would like to work in the office due to the competitive nature of the process. If you have any questions, please send your questions and/or concerns to our office email account.
  3. If I am no longer a student, may I nevertheless apply? Yes, you may.  Applicants who are no longer students are subject to slightly different eligibility requirements as set forth in NOAA Volunteer Program Operational Guidelines, NOAA Human Resources Guidance Bulletin #FY19-001 (March 7, 2019).  Please contact the office for additional details.
  4. Is there any additional information I should provide? Your cover letter should prominently indicate the time frame of your proposed tenure and clearly explain your interest in the NOAA GC International Section, international environmental law, ocean law, trade and environment law, and/or the Law of the Sea. Your cover letter should also identify any internship or externship requirements of your law school. For example, some law schools ask that we enter into a memorandum of understanding (MOU) or other written internship arrangement. Some law schools ask for a letter describing the internship, the nature of the work, and the type of feedback the intern may expect. Some law schools require an in-person site visit by their internship coordinator. We can generally accommodate these requirements so long as they are not inconsistent with applicable Department of Commerce and NOAA policies and procedures.
  5. How will I know if my application is being considered? All applications are reviewed. Candidates who appear to be an excellent fit will be contacted for additional information and/or for a telephone or video teleconference interview. We also check references. The office is not always able to respond to every application.
  6. Will any interviewing expenses be paid? No funds are available to reimburse applicants for any expenses associated with interviewing.
  7. How do you decide whom to select for an internship or externship?  The successful candidate will have strong research and writing skills as well as a demonstrated interest in and exposure to international environmental law, ocean law, trade and environment law, or the Law of the Sea. That strong interest may be demonstrated by relevant classwork (law school or college), prior work experience (paid or volunteer), or extracurricular activity (law school environmental law society, environmental law journal, journal topic). Because administrative law is a fundamental aspect of federal agency work, we prefer applicants who have taken a class in it.  Professionalism, maturity, and interpersonal skills are also important factors we consider. The number of hours per week the applicant can work may also be a factor. We favor applicants who can work full-time. We believe that interns or externs benefit most from the regular and in-depth exposure to the office’s work that a full-time arrangement provides. Our office also takes into account how the applicant may benefit from working for our office and whether that experience will assist the candidate in pursuing their career goals. Finally, we look favorably upon candidates who are veterans or have expressed an interest in public service.

Offer/Acceptance Process

How am I notified if I am selected?  If you are selected for an internship or externship, you will receive an offer by email from the Chief or the Deputy Chief of the International Section. If you accept the offer, you must complete the following forms, depending on whether you are a law student intern or a law graduate intern:

These forms must be filled out (online or typed where possible), printed out, and mailed to Peter Oppenheimer, International Section, NOAA Office of General Counsel, 1401 Constitution Ave., N.W., Room 48026, Washington, D.C.  20230-0001 at least thirty (30) calendar days in advance of the proposed start date.  Submission of the completed forms must be by mail using the U.S. Postal Service’s First Class Mail, Priority Mail, or an accountable commercial delivery service (e.g., UPS) to ensure compliance with federal law, OMB guidance, and Department of Commerce policies for the protection of personally identifiable information. See, e.g., NOAA Privacy Policy, and U.S. Department of Commerce, Office of the Chief Information Officer, “Department of Commerce IT Privacy Policy.”

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Is this a paid opportunity? No, the office only offers unpaid volunteer internships and externships.
  2. How many interns and externs do you normally have at one time? One to two per semester (spring, summer, and fall).
  3. How competitive is the application process? We receive the greatest number of applications for summer positions. Comparatively fewer applications are received for spring and fall positions.
  4. What are the duration and weekly work requirements? During all semesters, we ask for a 40-hour/week commitment for a minimum 10-week period.  Exceptions may be made on a case-by-case basis with the approval of the Section Chief.
  5. What is the difference between a law student internship, a law student externship, and a law graduate internship? Although the terms “internship” and “externship” are often used interchangeably in the context of law students, we use the term "internship" to describe an unpaid, full-time work opportunity of generally 40 hours/week in which students gain experience in our office while continuing to take classes. Interns may or may not receive credit from their school. We use the term "externship" to describe an arrangement in which the student is receiving academic credit for their volunteer externship and must meet a number of requirements imposed by the American Bar Association and their law school (generally 32-40 hours per week).  We use the phrase “law graduate internship” to describe a law school graduate working with us full-time on a volunteer basis.
  6. My law school features a semester-long “externship” program, which allows me to work on a full-time basis for credit. Can the NOAA GC International Section accommodate me? Yes. Our office prefers semester-long “externs.”
  7. What types of training, mentoring, and supervising will I receive? At the outset, there will be a meeting with the Section Chief or Deputy Section Chief to discuss your goals and objectives. With guidance from the Section Chief or the Deputy Section Chief, you will develop a brief one-page written plan identifying your goals and objectives and describing how you anticipate accomplishing those goals and objectives. The Section Chief, Deputy Section Chief, or one of the staff attorneys will assign projects to you that balance your interests and the needs of the office. The projects will normally come from our “Parking Lot” of assignments – a spreadsheet that describes projects, identifies the supervising attorney, and notes the project’s relative priority (high, medium, low). The assigning attorney will inform you of the project deadline, format, audience, and facts and resources necessary to complete it. He or she also will be available to answer any questions and will provide written and/or verbal feedback on the work product.  At the end of each week, you will be asked to turn in a log that identifies each of the projects assigned to you, their status, and your hours worked. The office has an informal open-door policy that facilitates regular communication between interns/externs and attorneys. Attorneys will strive to provide opportunities to expose you to the interagency process through participation (in-person, by phone, or by video teleconference) in meetings, as well as in meetings, telephone calls, and briefings with clients. Attorneys also will encourage interns and externs to participate (virtually or in-person) in brown bag lunch panels and seminars available at no cost at NOAA, the Department of Commerce, other federal agencies, local bar associations, think tanks, and non-profit organizations. We invite interns and externs to participate in monthly office staff meetings and other office gatherings. We provide constructive input on all work product and a mid-term and end-of-internship evaluation as requested. We emphasize that interns and externs should proactively seek feedback from the office’s attorneys throughout their tenure. Those interns who report having the best experience are typically the ones who take the most initiative.  Finally, we assign an attorney mentor if requested.
  8. May an intern or extern work remotely?  Since the COVID pandemic started in March 2020, all of our interns and externs have worked remotely.  As of August 2022, we resumed work a few days a week at our Washington, D.C. office in the main Department of Commerce building at 14th St. and Constitution Avenue, N.W.  If an intern or extern wished to join us on the days we are in our Washington, D.C. office, we would likely be able to accommodate them.
  9. May positions be extended beyond the time frame initially agreed? Possibly, if work and other circumstances warrant an extension. A small number of interns and externs have been accepted for a second internship or law graduate internship.  
  10. May first-year law students apply for a position? Yes.  See “Who May Apply” above.
  11. Could an internship or externship lead to a paid position? The hiring of full-time or paid term attorneys by NOAA depends on several factors, including vacancies, qualifications (including admission to a state bar), and the availability of funds. Qualified interns and externs may be considered should an attorney-advisor position become available. All such openings are publicized on offsite link.
  12. May I receive credit for the position? We will gladly complete all paperwork necessary for your educational institution to grant you credit for the successful completion of the internship or externship. Based on the success in the past, favorable consideration may be given to applicants who would obtain class credit, a stipend, or other support from their educational institution in furtherance of the development of experience in international environmental law, oceans law, and trade and environment law. 
  13. Is a security clearance required? Only if you will be coming into our office in Washington, D.C.  To receive a badge (which is required for access to federal government facilities), you must have obtained a security clearance from the Department of Commerce Office of Security.  In filling out the required forms described above, you will be required to answer questions, including with respect to any past unlawful activity which is a matter of record or for which you were fined or penalized. Any affirmative answers will have to be explained to the satisfaction of the Department of Commerce Office of Security, and that Office will determine whether you are eligible for the required security clearance.
  14. Is U.S. citizenship a requirement for a position? Yes. All student interns and externs must be U.S. citizens.
  15. Must applicants be law school students or law school graduates? Applicants who are no longer students are still eligible if they reside in the U.S. and meet a number of other criteria.  Please contact the office for more details.
  16. I am a veteran. How is that taken into account? There is no formal rating system for applying veterans’ preference to attorney appointments in the excepted service or, by extension, to a volunteer internship or externship in NOAA’s Office of General Counsel. However, we consider veterans’ preference eligibility as a positive factor in considering applications. Applicants eligible for veterans’ preference must include that information in their cover letter or resume and attach supporting documentation (e.g., the DD 214, Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty, or other supporting documentation) to their submissions.
  17. Is volunteer service as an intern or extern creditable for leave or any other employee benefit to which federal employees are entitled?  No, volunteer service is not creditable for leave or any other federal employee benefits.

Department of Commerce/NOAA Resources

Additional Resources

Consistent with Executive Order 14035 (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion in the Federal Workforce) and Department of Commerce Administrative Order (DAO) 215-3 (Federal Equal Opportunity Recruitment Program), the Office of General Counsel upholds federal policies on equal opportunity recruiting and works to generate diverse applicant pools consistent with race, national origin, and gender percentages in the civilian labor force.

Last updated February 3, 2023