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High Hopes for Capitol Fellows Program

The executive branch has an elite White House Fellowship, and the judicial snags top law students who could earn thousands more at big law firms. By comparison, the legislative branch’s mishmash of science, communications and business fellowships arranged by outside organizations can seem like it just does not match up.

Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Calif.) wants to change that by luring in law graduates to give them, and the nation, a lesson in legislative politics. He said that his proposed Daniel Webster Congressional Fellowship would accomplish just that.

The program would bring 40 law school graduates to Washington, D.C., every two years in hopes of upping the caliber of the Congressional work force and teaching lawyers a bit about how laws are made. He expects that Congressional Fellowship alumni would then increase the level of civic participation nationally as they become community leaders.

Lungren said the bill would give him a hand with work on the Judiciary Committee, of which he is a member, and lend some prestige to a recent graduate. “It would be beneficial to us as Members, it would be beneficial to those institutions, and it would be beneficial to those individuals,” he explained.

Alexandra Rosato, a legislative correspondent and assistant to Lungren, said the proposed program is modeled after the judiciary clerkship and would pay roughly the same amount as a position with the U.S. District Court in D.C. The hope is that this salary would put the fledgling fellowship on an equal footing with the more established clerkship program.

“Right now if you clerk for a federal judge, on the appellate level or, my gosh, the Supreme Court, you are considered outstanding,” Lungren said. “I would like to have that same sort of impact.”

The California Congressman banded together with co-sponsor Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and her district’s Stanford University Law School to write the bill, which was referred to the House Administration Committee.

Larry Kramer, dean of Stanford Law School, first generated the idea to fill a gap in his students’ education. “Law schools do too little to teach students about the legislative process,” he said.

He found that many of his students studied appellate cases in class and got their first jobs on appellate courts. These graduates knew a ton about the judiciary but not much about how laws are created in the first place.

The dean suspects the study of law is so focused on courts because judicial clerkships carry enormous prestige and former clerks tend to become leaders of bar associations. Kramer, who clerked for two years himself, certainly sees a void in his own education.

After drawing up a plan for the proposed fellowship, Kramer had to get some help. “I could make no headway on my own,” he said. “I was only in a judicial clerkship. I don’t know enough about Congress.”

With help from Stanford’s director of federal government relations, the dean got Lofgren on board along with Lungren.

Lofgren hopes the program will give “stature to the legislative process in comparison with the judicial process.”

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