At Harris Bricken, we keep close tabs on what is happening around the world, and we know that our friends and clients do, as well. We are happy to provide this podcast series: Global Law and Business, hosted by international attorneys Fred Rocafort and Jonathan Bench, where we look at the world by talking with business leaders, innovators, service providers, manufacturers, and government leaders around the world.
In Episode #73, we are joined by Attorney-Advisor at the U.S. Department of State, Niels Von Deuten.
- The role of State Department lawyers
- How the Department’s legal office, aka “L”, is organized
- The difference between L and the legal attaches posted at U.S. missions abroad
- Niels’ diverse assignments, from representing the Department on employment matters, to supporting the bureaus in charge of African and Near Eastern affairs
- Clerking for both trial and appeals judges
- Listening, and watching recommendations from:
- A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine
- Foreign Policy’s Africa Brief
We’ll see you next week for another exciting and informative episode when we sit down with Luis Martínez, the director of the Southeast energy, climate and clean energy program at Natural Resources Defense Council.
This podcast audio has been transcribed by an automatic transcriber.
Fred Rocafort 0:07
Global law and global business go hand in hand, but never seem to keep pace with each other. The importance on the global stage of developing and developed nations waxes and wanes, while consumption and interconnectedness steadily increase all the while laws and regulations change incessantly requiring businesses to stay nimble. But how do we make sense of it all? Welcome to Global Law and Business hosted by Harris Bricken International Business attorneys. I’m Fred Rocafort.
Jonathan Bench 0:37
and I’m Jonathan Bench. Every week, we take a targeted look at legal and economic developments in locales around the world as we try to decipher global trends in law and business with the help of international experts. We cover continents, countries, regimes, governance, finance, legal developments, and whatever is trending on Twitter. We cover the important, the seemingly unimportant, the relatively simple and the complex.
Fred Rocafort 1:02
We hope you enjoy today’s podcast. Please connect with us on social media to comment and suggest future topics and guests.
Jonathan Bench 1:22
Today’s guest is Niels von Deuten an attorney advisor in the US Department of State’s office of the legal adviser. He currently works in the legal advisors office for African in Near Eastern Affairs, where he covers legal issues relating to Israeli Palestinian affairs and the Horn of Africa. He previously worked in the Department’s Office of employment law. And as a disclaimer, the views expressed by Niels today are those of his own and not necessarily those of the US government. Neil’s Welcome to Harris Bricken School of Law and business, creating stronger Thank you. Thanks for Thanks for having me. Niels, we’d love to have you start by telling us how you got here. And by way of background for our audience. Niels and I met when we were both law students at George Washington University feels like many years ago, Niels was the intimidatingly bright student who befriended me. And so I’ve kept tabs on his career. And obviously, he’s been doing very interesting things. So, Niels, we’re happy to have you with us happy to hear how you got where you are. And I know we’ve had some conversations in the past. It’s, as you said, and I’ve said, too, we always look pretty good on paper, but it’s much more interesting to know all of the details in between those impressive lines on the resume.
Niels von Deuten 2:31
Well, hopefully I can live up to that. As you say, it is an increasing number of years. It’s going up all the time, since since I was in law school. But I guess for me, I’ll start a little bit before law school, actually, because for me, one of the really fundamental development moments was my time pod in China, where I taught English for a couple of years in Jonjo province, and I should say, in Junko in Hunan Province, which you may have seen was in the news recently, unfortunately, due to the flooding there. And it was after those couple of years and taking the L sat in Beijing, which was quite quite an experience that I really decided law school was for me and applied and got into the George Washington University. And yeah, while there then had the pleasure of doing a bunch of different things from Law Review, to mock trial board to moot court. And ultimately, that after, went and clerked at the Western District for New York, with Federal District Judge William scotney. And after a year of that in in Buffalo, New York, I then went on to the Fifth Circuit in Houston, Texas, where I clerked with the honorable Circuit Judge Katelyn King. It was, while I was in Houston, that I applied to the office of the legal advisor at the Department of State was actually a colleague who not sure if you would remember them, but was also at George Washington with us and suggested, you know, Hey, I know you’re interested in international law. Why don’t you apply? And I thought, well, originally when I was in law school, you know, I wasn’t a US citizen. And so it wasn’t an option for me. But by the time I was in Houston, that had changed. And so I applied, and fortunately, there was a large lot of mutual liking on both sides. And it worked out. And then I started at state at the beginning of 2014.
Jonathan Bench 4:38
So for our law student audience, because we do have a fair number of law students who have tuned in from time to time, how many letters did you send out to try and get your clerkships at Bob ballpark me because I know it was some kind of astounding number.
Niels von Deuten 4:50
Yeah, so I mean, Jonathan, you will remember this all too well, right? We were going to law school in the shadow of the 2008 financial crisis. So a lot of the things we did, maybe were a little different, hopefully, from the way things are now or more recent, but in terms of the clerkships, not thinking about law firm applications or other applications. It was several 100. easily. I remember going to our career office and picking up a couple of boxes of printouts and then printing a bunch at home and learning how to use mail merge and all of that. So yeah, it was a significant effort. They’ll say,
Fred Rocafort 5:31
Niels, it’s good to have you on the podcast. Let me start off with some personal connections that we have I’m a former State Department employee myself, I used to be a member of the Foreign Service and got to spend a year working at Maine state, which is the permanent state headquarters for those of you not versed in the lingo. So I had that experience as well. But most Foreign Service officers do end up cycling through VC at some point. But I did manage to have that experience early on. By that time, I had already gone to law school, I was already a licensed attorney. And February, often I would walk by the offices of the legal adviser. l right, as it used to be known back then I assume I assume it’s still the case. And I had a fair amount of curiosity as to what at work entailed. I found myself in a in an interesting position, right. I was an attorney, but not really working in the legal departments of the organization where I was, overtime, I did learn a little bit about the kind of work that some of the attorneys working at state did. But clearly there there’s a broad range of work that that’s done and then different specializations. So with that introduction, can you give us an introduction to the office of the Legal Adviser? And more specifically, what kind of work do you do in general terms? I think many of our listeners will have some inkling of what an in house lawyer does, some of them might even know a little bit about what an in house lawyer working mom’s not really in house but a lawyer working within a government department might be doing but State Department This is a little different, right? focus of the department is obviously on foreign affairs and international relations. So what kind of work do you do?
Niels von Deuten 7:25
Let me see if I can tackle all that. So first of all, that’s great to hear. I’m glad you had what sounds like a positive experience, and that we were able to intrigue you a little bit with the internal workings of our while you were there. I will say for those folks who are listening and are in law school, I think one of the things that’s not appreciated enough is how how flexible your legal degree can be. And I have so many clients at the Department of State that do have law degrees, and although their daily work does not include sort of legal work as such, the training that they got in law school, I think certainly is a big help with their work. And Fred, I hope you feel the same way. And certainly makes my job easier, you know, when I talk with them, and they already have accounting on some of the will say basic concerns that I’m able to express and the lingo that I use. And further, I hope you will help lay me in if I start playing a little bit too much inside baseball, because as you know, Office of Legal Advisor, we do refer to it as l as in the letter. And most people in the department or most bureaus are some composition of letters either whether it’s as for the secretary de for the deputy, etc. So if I if I fall into that mode of speech, do please persuade me. But in terms of the the work of the Office of Legal Advisor l at a very high level, we can say that l furnishers. advice on all legal issues, domestic and international, that arise in the course of the department’s work. So for us, that means assisting department principals and policy officials in formulating and implementing the foreign policies of the United States. And for us, specifically, as attorneys that also includes promoting the development of international law and its institutions as fundamental elements of those policies. So in terms of what we actually do, then, the office is organized to provide direct legal support to the Department of State’s various bureaus. And for you will know this, but for other folks at the State Department, we have reached NOAA geographic offices. So those are those which focus on specific areas of the world. For example, my clients are primarily in the Bureau of African Affairs and the Bureau of the Eastern Affairs. And then we also have functional officers that are those that deal with specific subject matters, such as economics and business, international environmental and scientific issues or internal management. I can go into more detail To as to the specific officers, including my own. But let me pause there to see if for you or Jonathan had any follow up or questions on that.
Jonathan Bench 10:08
Niels, that sounds excellent. Please continue on the track that you’ve taken.
Niels von Deuten 10:12
Sure, happy to. So L is divided into 23 sections that roughly correspond to these belfius vehicles I was just talking about. So as with the State Department structure, generally, we’ve got l regional offices that focus on specific areas of the world. And functional offices that deal with specific subject matters be human rights and refugees, political and military affairs, oceans, international environmental and scientific affairs, legislation for an assistance. We also have offices in The Hague Geneva puzzles and New York. And then we rotate through these different offices. So as Jonathan mentioned, at the top of the show, I started in office of employment law. And I’m currently in our office of African and Near Eastern Affairs. So I am what we call a regional attorney, I’d covering specific area of the world. And then shortly, I learned recently that I’ll be rotating again, and moving on to our un affairs office. So also very excited about that.
Fred Rocafort 11:15
So Niels, let me ask you about these rotations. For those who are not that familiar with the State Department, there is quite a bit of movement and internal movement, right I that this is something that both foreign service officers who are going to different embassies and consulates, and also coming back to DC for assignments, this is something that they experienced, but it’s also something that, to some degree, characterizes us, DC based, or US based employees as well. And I think that’s actually one of the pluses of working at the State Department, you have the opportunity to do different things. And if you’re looking for a change, there’s pathways available to do that. Of course, there’s probably differences in terms of how much flexibility a particular employee has, depending on their skill sets, depending on where they currently are. But let me ask you, with the the attorneys working in your office, how often do you get to change to a new position? maybe tell us a little bit about how that works? I mean, I know, for example, with the Foreign Service there, there’s pretty well established cycles where you know, when your assignment is coming to an end, and then you have to line up your next assignment? Is it as structured as that? Or is it more perhaps of a self driven process where you say, you know, I’ve been doing this kind of work for three or four years would be nice to, to do something a little bit different? Do you have as we used to do bid lists, where the different openings are announced? Or is it done somewhat differently, I’m interested in the mechanics of the changes.
Niels von Deuten 12:54
So as an initial modified, I think that’s exactly like that, that is a similarity would not Foreign Service in oil. For the most part, we are civil service. But we do have a similar rotation system as foreign service officers, the key difference, I suppose being that we tend not to go overseas, unless we’re talking about one of the few positions in you know, offices like Brussels, or Geneva or the Hague, when New York. But so on average, every two to three years, you will see attorneys and elbow take from one office to the to another, and it everyone is on sort of their own their own schedule. It’s not that, you know, may comes around and if we want in an L office turns over into a new one. So if we just depending on when folks start in a particular office that kind of starts that timeline. And we find that after a attorney is in the office for about two years, they are then eligible to start thinking about rotation. And let me let me start by talking about what it’s like when you first join l because it is typically not the case that for new attorneys joining the Office of the legal advisor, that they will go into any office, right, so we’ll be asked our preferences, but broadly speaking, there are a series of offices in LA that we sort of stuck you out in and these tend to be offices that have really good work for learning the inner workings of the Department of State. So I started in the office of employment law, which is an office that a lot of our new attorneys started and you know, there I am working with clients across the department because unfortunately, you know, as with any other large organization, every part of the department may give rise to some kind of employment related litigation. So one of my main duties in would be called Le MP was working on cases and defending the default department before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission EEOC, the Merit Systems Protection Board MSPB, working on cases with the Foreign Service grievance board, supporting personnel litigation in federal courts load, you know, within the first few weeks of me joining state I was taking and defending depositions, I became charged with managing cases from inception through discovery, motion practice, you know, until an administrative hearing, I will our equivalent of a tile. And that gave me a really good foundational knowledge of, of how the department functions, and how a lot of the offices function. And our other sort of offices that many new attorneys start in are similar in that regard. So once you have made it through sort of this initial management style office, and you’re to two and a half years, and you’re going to start expressing your preferences for rotation to our front office, you will meet with the one of the deputy legal advisors, and you will kind of have a conversation about what skills are you looking to develop? What skills have you developed? Where are you hoping to go in? Well, you know, what are your long term aspirations? What are your short term aspirations? And how do those line up with the positions that we anticipate will open up, because remember, if we run this on their own schedule, so it’s so you might be interested in the position in this office, but if a bunch of attorneys have recently rotated to that office, you know, there’s not going to be a position flee there for probably a couple of years. And so all of that gets taken into consideration. And at the end of the day, depending on what your timeline is, as to when you are ready to rotate, and what is available, and, of course, just the needs of the service, right? Where Where do we have a attorney shortage? Where is there more activity, more legal work being generated? Where do we need backup, right? The attorney is going to rotate into that position. One of the things that when I talk with law students, you know, I try and release this is the rotation system is great for creating generalist attorneys, which is what we view ourselves as by rotating this frequently, we become generalists, we learn a particular portfolio. And then once we have really learned well, and are super comfortable, we rotate into a new portfolio and kind of start from scratch, right and have to really learn a whole new skill set, which, you know, if you’re intellectually curious, that’s a big plus, if you’re looking to sort of do the same thing for 10 years, and really feel like, you know, you own the set of issues, and are the best in your field and explaining them, you know, maybe maybe it’s less ideal. But the thing that turns some people off is the thought that once they rotate into a particular position that they really enjoy, you know, they can’t sit in it forever. Right, I have been in the African and Near Eastern Affairs Office for five years, because I love the work. But it’s time for me to move on. Right, it’s time to give others the opportunity to work on my portfolio. And so, you know, that’s, that’s kind of the cycle that we go through with the rotation system. And, yeah, it’s, it does mean that we keep having new experiences. And for me, at least professionally, I find it incredibly rewarding. I really have difficulty now thinking of myself as kind of doing the same type of work for an extended period of time as opposed to constantly learning new parts of the department, new portfolios, new legal issues. So yeah, for a particular kind of attorney. It’s really thrilling work.
Fred Rocafort 18:47
Niels just to jump in, I think that what you described was a dynamic that was very present in the in the Foreign Service as well, right? I mean, for the average officer, there would be that mixed bag of experiences that were really enjoyable experiences that perhaps were not as enjoyable. But there was always that risk, if you will, of ending up somewhere where everything just really fell into plays you you enjoy the work you enjoyed the place where you were living. But at the same time, you knew that at some point that would come to an end. I mean, of course, the flip side of that is that if you’re in a situation that you don’t like, then you always have that light at the end of the tunnel. Just one quick follow up. And then again, thinking of future potential State Department lawyers, law students who are finding out about different options. One misconception that I’ve encountered is some people think that it is your department that basically serves as legal attache is overseas. So perhaps you could clarify what the difference is because I think there are there are people who think who assume that that if you wanted to work in embassies overseas, in that capacity that your pathway would be the They would take but that’s not the case. So perhaps you can explain that.
Niels von Deuten 20:03
Yeah. And let me, let me start by kind of addressing your comment on my response? Because I think, you know, there are a lot of similarities in terms of the rotations that you see Foreign Service employees and state attorneys undertaking. I think one of the there’s a lot of reasons for why Foreign Service employees move move around, including some of the same for why we move account, state attorneys the way we do. One of the main philosophies, I would say, in L, is this notion I mentioned a moment ago of being a generalist. So the department is an incredibly complex organism that is engaged in, frankly, an unfashionable number of activities at any given moment. You know, we have 10s of 1000s of employees around the world. So one of the benefits from an institutional standpoint, with L sortation. system, is the fact that attorneys get to see all these different facets of the department. And what that means is that every time we rotate, we sort of understand the department a little bit better. We’re working with clients that we haven’t met before, and that we didn’t understand what they did. But now we do. And when it comes to something like issue spotting diet, which is regional attorney, is really one of my main skills, as you know, a legal issue comes across my doorstep, or maybe a policy issue with with hidden legal issues embedded and, and I need to figure out, which attorneys do I talk to? Like? Do I have the skill set necessary to answer this quickly? Or do I need to coordinate with colleagues who may have specific subject matter expertise, and the more rotations I have under my belt, the easier that becomes for me, because I know who to reach out to because maybe I had that job, but no form of rotation. And so so we find that as attorneys do more and more rotations, they just become more and more valuable to the department. Good turning to your most recent question of sort of differentiating legal attache is from state legal in Washington. Yeah, that, you know, and I am pretty sure I had this misconception right at certain points in, in law school. So it’s important to remember that l is primarily 99%, based in Washington, DC, while we have a handful of positions overseas, and while we may have temporary positions, depending on what’s going on in the world, overseas, the vast majority of folks are going to be in in Washington. And we are working with our Washington based clients, as well as regularly interacting with posts with our embassies. You know, I don’t include a not infrequently get on the line with embassy colleagues in Jerusalem, for example, and we’ll discuss various issues. So just listen in on the conversations and give feedback or you know, issue, spot and flag anything that that I might notice. So I think that’s important to realize, if you are really set on wanting to live overseas, I think l can be may be a jumping off point for you to long term. Look overseas, but you know, in your short and midterm career, you’re going to be based in Washington, if you are interested in being a legal officer at an embassy, definitely a few options that I like to shout out. So legal attache is is one of the ones so working with, for example, Department of Justice or FBI, they have overseas positions. Most federal agencies, it turns out, have some international department, you know, Department of Agriculture, for example, has an international division, the Department of Justice has Office of litigation. And many of those positions are overseas because they are working for one reason or another, you know, directly at our embassies. I think the best example of this is probably USA, it’s regional.
I’m trying to remember regional attorneys who are at post serving fair with USAID and advise on local legal issues and do a lot with foreign assistance and the contracting part of that. And that’s a great option for folks who want to be in the field. And it’s not uncommon that we have some of those folks, you know, coming over and then pursuing a career in L. So if either you don’t see your future in the L or it’s not possible right now or you want to be overseas, there are a lot of options and some of those options can lead them to a Later career an L and returning to one of my appoints, you know, lots of folks with legal degrees work at the State Department and the vast majority do not work in the office of the legal adviser. Right. So if you are okay with being an individual who is working on policy, it is actually part of the decision making apparatus, right, as opposed to L, which usually doesn’t take policy positions on the underlying issues. Then joining the Foreign Service, and having the type of experience that you had is, I think, just just tremendous. And I would encourage anyone you know, who’s in law school or considering law school, not to close off those particular careers? Because of course, looking at where you are now. Great. You can see how your own career it has has pocket to this place. So yeah, I think it’s under appreciated. Hopefully, I answered your question. I think I saw that gambling towards the end. But pull me back.
Jonathan Bench 25:58
So Niels, let’s talk about your experience with Africa. I’m very interested, you’ve spent the last five years dealing with Africa and Near East issues. Certainly a hotbed of everything. Right. I mean, talk about geopolitical issues. What have you seen? What kind of issues have you run into that you can talk about? And how are the challenges in Africa or the Middle East different than issues where you that you’ve seen in other areas?
Niels von Deuten 26:25
Jonathan, I’m glad that you asked such a tight and discreet question.
Jonathan Bench 26:29
I’m not a litigator. So I like to leave things very open ended.
Niels von Deuten 26:33
Hey, I mean, that’s, that’s the type of question I ask on deposition. Yeah, tech, tackling just one piece at a time. You know, I have to speak in sort of generalities as to the specific issues I’ve worked on, I can say that my portfolio has focused in terms of the Africa side. And North Eastern Affairs, has focused on Morocco and Egypt and Somalia, and Kenya, on the African continent. And then Israeli Palestinian issues in the Near East, and a little bit of our policy towards Iran, in particular, overlapping with the International Court of Justice. So already, just by identifying the those countries, you can imagine a number of legal issues that have arisen, whether it is Egypt, whether it is Morocco, whether it is the Al Shabaab insurgency in Somalia, right, that impacts the entire Horn of Africa, and Kenya in particular. So those issues have a listen, for me. And I can speak in greater detail about those as well. In terms of sort of the issues involving Africa, I think one of the things that folks struggle with, and I suspect I struggled with as well, especially early on, is that, you know, we have a relationship with each of these countries. And each of them has their own history, their own backstory on how they came to be, but also a story that is part of a larger hole, a regional hole, and then an African hole. And you need to really appreciate each of those levels when you are tackling either legal issues or policy issues. Because they overlap with one another. And it’s, it’s really easy to lose the thread. And to be surprised if you don’t have all three of those lenses kind of layered on top of each other. So one example of this, you know, of course, is Somalia, where we have a number of federal member states, and each of which has different relations with the central federal government, including a region like Somaliland. But you can’t really understand Somalia without appreciating the broader politics of the Horn of Africa, including relations with Kenya, both because of, you know, some of the attacks that Kenya has suffered, and because of the interest that Kenya has in, in a stable Somalia, and that in turn, you know, takes you to a continent wide level where you’re thinking about African Union policy in Somalia, and how each of these different actors proceeds in the African Union in terms of pan African policy to resolve some of the issues that Somalia faces, which is why for example, you have Amazon. So if the African Union, peacekeeping mission fair, that is helping to combat al Shabaab. So I think unlike other parts of the world, and you know, I have to speak cautiously right, because I have not my experiences is very specific here. But I think the mistake folks make when they’re dealing with Africa related issues is not to appreciate those three clean levels by country level history, collegial interactions, and then the more global more continental policy wide lens Fluid shell folks are thinking about problems. I’ll pause there. Because I probably have again, gone off script.
Jonathan Bench 30:07
No, you’re right. It’s a massive topic. And I’m finding myself curious how often you need to remind yourself and others during those conversations when you’re discussing discrete legal issues, to back up and discuss those greater geopolitical concerns, and the overlapping, you know, region groups history, you know, terrorist groups, insurgents, there’s so much going on all overlaid on top of one legal question you’re trying to answer, how often do you find yourself having to take a step back and say, I need to think about this in a macro way, before I dive back into my issue?
Niels von Deuten 30:41
You know, I think that is one of the main ways in which we are able to add value to the department’s work, I think, you know, our clients are dealing with a problem set up right in front of them. And that demand answers now, we sometimes as lawyers, I think, have the luxury, both because of how we think about problems. And because, again, the L doesn’t typically take policy position. So we sort of don’t have a horse in the race, you know, in thinking about these issues more broadly, to identify what are the pros and cons to a client’s that, you know, providing them that more more objective frame of mind, and helping them to step back and look at the problem. And in that light, you know, clients do that themselves. That’s why we have sort of the Africa buco guide. And we have folks that that are looking at those larger levels as well. But when I’m working with desk officers, for example, it is quite often that I sort of step back, and I think about how the action we take here is going to impact the action we take elsewhere. So I can give you a couple of examples. So when we are working on a particular legal issue with a country, the folks working on that country are thinking, you know, how can they reach the best resolution on this issue for our bilateral relationship of the country? Or maybe if they’re thinking partner, you know, for our relationship of the African Union, whereas an L while we’re thinking about that, as well, and sort of weighing the importance of a good answer right now, we are also almost like a circuit judge, click, if you will, thinking about the blada spectrum of what has been our past answer to this question. And other problems by us maybe changing course at this point? What questions are likely to arise in the future that logically would have the same answer, but yield a less desirable result? Right? And what’s going on right now, in other parts of the world? What other questions are we handling? Where the answer to this question is going to matter? This, of course, comes up when we interpret federal legislation. But there are a lot of assistance restrictions, of course, and how we interpret one particular authority or the circumstances under which we think a notwithstanding authority may be available to overcome some of those obstacles. You know, both whether it’s applicable and whether just interpreting it it’s, it’s it’s supportable, that impacts our thinking across the board. And so we have a pretty extensive institutional knowledge that we bring to bear when we consider legal issues. And, you know, working on Israeli Palestinian issues, it probably will not surprise you that it is not uncommon for us to kind of dig back into statements from 60s 70s 80s, and even earlier to see what were the positions of the US government then, versus what are we trying to do now? And can those be reconciled? Should they be reconciled? And what does that do to our legal views on this issue more broadly.
Fred Rocafort 33:51
So we can certainly spend many more hours discussing your work at the State Department. There’s, there’s just so much there, I’m going to have to force myself to make a hard turn, and take advantage of your experience in another area of the law, and that is your clerkships. It’s a privilege to have this opportunity to sit down and talk with someone who has had the experiences that you’ve had in that field. So please tell us more about the clerkships. We’ve talked a little bit already about the process to apply for them. I think maybe we don’t we don’t have to focus too much on that. But But again, the in the same way that I was somewhat mystified by thinking about what went on behind the walls of your office, as someone who has not had the experience of clerking. I also have some questions. I’m intrigued by by that as well. And and I’ll go a little bit further by saying that, to the extent that most of us whether we are lawyers or not hear about clerkships very often it has to do with Supreme Court clerkships which are unique in their own ways. I’m sure and then probably the work of, of most clerks around the country while enjoying some similarities to what supreme court clerks do. There’s also significant differences. So tell us more about the day to day work of a clerk. I mean, I had professors in law school that would suggest that his Supreme Court decisions were pretty much the the work of clerks in their entirety. I mean, I’m sure there’s some truth to that, but not not perhaps as absolute, as I said, about the day to day of your work. What were the interactions like with judges, with fellow clerks? To the extent that you are able to speak to this? How would the experience of being a clerk in a place like New York be different from from being somewhere else? you’re you’re you’re also working in Texas. So that already presents some differences as well. Also, of course, the difference between the different chord levels right, working at the at the trial court level or working at the appeals court level? Once again, I mean, this is this is a very open ended question on my end, but really, anything you can share with us about those experiences will be appreciated.
Niels von Deuten 36:13
Yeah, that’s that is a hard turn onto a wide highway. So yeah, let me let me start by saying, when I was applying for clerkships, I was thinking very practically, I was thinking, boy, we’ve got this good financial recession going on, jobs are hard to come by clutch chips are category of jobs, you know, that is still coming up. And that I am told can help build my resume. I didn’t necessarily know too much more about what the day to day work of a clerk was going to entail. Though, if I had I mean, it would have just motivated me further, because I think it is a tremendous experience and a massive privilege, as you noted, to get to do that. And for anyone who is interested in really seeing the US legal system from the inside out on indictment, all the way to the exhaustion of appeals. A collection is is just tremendously valuable. So as I noted, I collect at both the district level and the circuit level, each of those, whether you are a district level clerk or a circuit level clerk, are going to be quite different from each other. And I can’t speak to what clerkships at the magistrate judge level are, though I think they are going to have some similarities to a district court collection. And you know, as I think with you, but I cannot speak to clerking at the supreme court level, I’m afraid, but in terms of the daily work that existed at the district level, so each judge is going to have their own preferences for how they work with their clerks. And I don’t want to speak too much about my specific experience, because that, you know, may not milk all clerks, experiences with their judges, judges have a lot of latitude and how they manage their chambers. And they have a lot of preferences, you know, and how they go about things. So I’ll, I’ll speak on some things that I think our agenda will lead to that I think at least some maybe many clerks would would agree with. So first, you’re going to have a very close relationship with your judge, your judge is going to rely on you most likely, for a lot of things, everything from preparing them for daily status conferences that they have with parties, either at the civil or criminal level, you’re maybe preparing them for sentencings. You know, giving you a views on whether this is something that should be within the guidelines or whether there are any legal issues or whether the parties have raised any concerns that need to be considered as part of application of the sentencing guidelines, you are potentially going to get to work on civil and criminal trials, which will involve you addressing everything from motions eliminate, to drafting Julian’s selections. And so in addition to that daily work, you will likely help the judge manage their docket, and they’re going to have a lengthy docket of pending motions with a motion to dismiss motion for summary judgment, depending on what your judge you know, asks of you, you might be if I think recommendations for how they should be resolved, and really providing your judge all the information that they need to lender decision. Now, they may come back and have more questions for you. But in a lot of cases, or a lot of instances, I should say because there are a lot of cases. You know, the judge is really relying on you to do much of that legwork, digging into the record, making sure that the parties are kept honest that you know all the deposition testimony that the siding really flows the way they think it does. And, and making recommendations. So that’s the that’s the district level. And both in terms of civil and criminal law, it is fascinating to get to see attorneys in your practice, right, appealing and making the arguments and how they interact with each other. There were just so many things that I learned that I had maybe heard about academically, but to actually see every day, you know, how does the Department of Justice talk with defense counsel on?
What is an acceptable sentence? You know, how do they engage in plea bargaining? How does a judge speak to a jury? How are jury functions get drafted? Where do they come from? Things like that. So just just tremendous experience, when I can expand on any of those little bits, the circuit level, you know, in, I think, in an ideal world, most attorneys would click for a district court judge or maybe a state equivalent, and then clerk at the circuit level, because then they see, really the whole legal system, you know, setting aside Supreme Court review, for example, and the some clerks describe working at the circuit level as sort of being in the ivory tower, because you are not concerned. So with the said, with the outcome of a particular case, when you are concerned with is the precedent, identical set across other cases. So somewhat similar to what I was just talking about with our work at the State Department, where we are trying to think not just about the immediate legal issue, but how its resolution and its interpretation is going to apply to other legal issues down the road in the past or contemporaneously. So at the circuit level, you are thinking about that you are thinking about the makeup of the court, and sort of where the law is going, I will say and what I mean by that is, when a case comes to a circuit, it’s possible that this kid is dealing with a legal question for the first time. But, of course, for the first time at the district court level, but now it’s being considered for the first time on appeal, there may be other circuits that have considered the issue, and they have come out one way or the other. And looking at those circuits, what their reasoning is, and figuring out, you know, what is your judges views on this and making sure that you informed them properly of all of this? And, you know, what, what are the views of the circuit more generally, because one of the experiences that you’re not going to get at the district court level, and you might not at the appellate level, is when the case goes in for an bunko view. Right, which is a whole nother process, part of the past to see. But I think, again, speaking chernova with that circuit judges like to see attorneys that have had this record clerkships because they know that those attorneys are familiar with what it’s like in the trenches, circuit judges, I think, often wondering, what was it that led a district court judge to render the decision they did, either on emotion, or, you know, dueling doing an actual title, and having a clerk who worked with a district court judge and saw that side of things, and the conditions under which those decisions need to be made, I think can be invaluable. And so, you know, being able to bring that experience to the circuit level, I think is great. But listen, if you talk to other clerks, I think you’re going to have some who vastly prefer working on to the support level, and some that vastly prefer working at the circuit level and maybe different opinions about which is more valuable. But just having gotten to see both sides of that coin, you know, that’s my perspective.
Jonathan Bench 43:47
Niels, we’d love to talk more with you. As Fred said, we are basically a time now so we’re gonna have to jump to our last question, which I actually enjoy. consistently across all of our interviews. We like to end with recommendations from Fred, you and me about something we’ve read recently or seen anything at all on point or not on point. So we’ll start with you Niels, what do you have to recommend for our listeners?
Niels von Deuten 44:13
Oh, excellent. I’m really looking forward to hearing yours. But for mine, I decided to go poor pure fluff, because I’m a science fiction fan. That’s it. I think when I tell you about my choice, you’ll see sort of how it intersects with some of the topics we’ve been discussing. My recommendation was the 2020 Hugo Award winning novel called a memory called Empire by Arkady Martine. So the reason it spoke to me, I think will be a pattern from its central premise, which is you have a science fiction world by two you’ve got an interstellar Empire, you have some smaller nations and you are following the protagonist is the ambassador from a small nation or Space Station. Who is appointed to represent her people to this much a vast, much larger Interstellar Empire, all the while she investigates the death of her predecessor, the proceeding ambassador, within that society. So you’ve got, in addition to the diplomatic intrigue that is at the heart of the book, and which is expertly done, the author has a background in Byzantine history. And they weave these themes of Roman and Byzantine culture as well as history of the Empire of the Aztecs into how the societies in this book are depicted, that is just from, you know, a historical and anthropological standpoint, super satisfying. And on top of that, the book speaks to themes of colonization, both administrative and cultural, and the fundamental imbalances that exists between people trying to communicate with each other, when they come from these different backgrounds. And whether it is possible or not possible. When you have such a overarching culture like that really influences all these all these smaller entities. So it was just an absolute joy to lead and think about.
Jonathan Bench 46:09
Excellent. Thanks for that recommendation, Niels. Fred, what do you have for us today?
Fred Rocafort 46:13
So we are recording in the midst of the everything that’s happening in Afghanistan, I don’t even know what the term would be to really describe all that’s happening, right. We’ve got takeover of Kabul by the Taliban, like maybe maybe we can use that as a as a reference point. But there’s so many things going on, with evacuation of Americans and other foreign nationals, as well as Afghans who who who are also being being evacuated. So along those lines, I thought I would recommend one of the many things that I’ve read recently, one of the many excellent things that are really being written about about Afghanistan, but I think this is probably the best. The title of the piece is CIA’s former counterterrorism chief for the region, Afghanistan, not an intelligence failure, something much worse, author of that is Douglas London. And this was published on the 18th of August, on a website called just security. So So take a look at that if you have any interest in in Afghanistan, by the time this podcast comes out, there might have been more time elapsed while that there will be more time elapsed, but still a relevant read. And I also want to offer a slightly lighter recommendation. Cocaine Cowboys on Netflix, obviously, it’s still a pretty, pretty heady subject. But in addition to the entertainment value, and it is it is plentiful. There’s a lot of legal content in there. So sort of going back to Neil’s discussion of clerkships. There’s there’s a lot there a lot of things that happened at the courts. If you have any interest at all, in that aspect of the law, what happens in the courtroom, there’s just a lot of great content in the entire series about the trials that were faced by the main protagonists and jury dynamics, both in terms of jury selection in terms of jury deliberations, how the interaction between law enforcement and the judicial system so that that alone was of quite a bit of interest. But of course, there’s also a more salacious side to it. The Cowboys in question Are these drug dealers operating out of Miami in the late 70s, and 80s. And into the 90s. I had heard about this for some time, but never got around to it. Part of the reason why I didn’t get to it sooner is because I thought you know, I’ve seen enough things on drug wars and all that. There’s really not a whole lot that can be added by, by by a particular series, but I was wrong. This one really gripped me. So Cocaine Cowboys on Netflix, Jonathan, what do you have, hopefully something a little more upbeat. Let me jump in there and just say how glad I am that you let me go first.
Jonathan Bench 49:14
That’s excellent,Fred. Mine is a little more serious. But I have suggested my share of fluff over over the episodes as we’ve been doing this. So I’m recommending foreign policies Africa brief, I’m always subscribing and unsubscribing to newsletters because I am continuing to refine what I want to know about the world the level expertise I need to help me understand things and a lot of times you know, I can easily spend six hours a day reading through news stories and and newsletters by very, very talented writers. And I frankly just don’t have enough time to do that in my day. So I appreciate foreign policy also has a great China briefing. There’s some other ones this cynicism by a bill bishop. There are Some great newsletters that I’ve found and recommended just because I can a lot of days, I only have time to glance through the headlines. But I get the headlines are detailed enough. And the stories are engaging enough and detailed enough at the level that I want to engage with. for Africa brief, I’m still not as familiar with the I don’t know how many countries are in Africa 15 years, you can probably tell me 50, some 60 some countries in Africa. And it’s just a lot going on all the time. And so I’m I’m trying to work my way through, you know, I think I understand Asia, Southeast Asia quite well. But Africa is has always been intriguing to me and still continues to be quite mystifying just because of the sheer number of countries the complexity, the history. And so if you’re at all interested in understanding Africa at a very deep level, you know, it’s going to be you’re going to be treading a deep water, but I certainly enjoy it when it comes out. And this is just a once a week newsletter. So if you sit down and take 15 or 20 minutes, you can get the main story and skim the headlines and have a decent feel for some of the top issues that are going on in Africa right now. With that, Niels, I want to thank you again for your time, it’s certainly been enjoyable, we covered not nearly enough material, so we’ll have to have you back again at some point, preferably after you’ve had some time in your new post. We can hear what you’re doing with the UN. And thanks again for taking the time.
Niels von Deuten 50:26
Oh, my absolute pleasure. Thank you so much for having me again.
Jonathan Bench 51:26
Global law and business is a production of Harris Bricken. The team includes Madeline Williams, and Michaela Moore. The music is composed by Steven Schmidt. If you like the show, subscribe on iTunes and leave us a review there. We’d like to hear what you think of the show and it helps new listeners find us. Tune in next week for another episode. We’ll see you then.
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