By Edward Jung ’24

A favorite case of mine is Secretary of Labor v. Lauritzen, a decision from 1987 by the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. The opening line features Judge Harlington Wood, Jr., writing that “[t]his, as unlikely as it may at first seem, is a federal pickle case.” The case concerned whether migrant workers who harvested the pickle crop of a collection of farms were employees for purposes of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, or instead independent contractors to whom the Act’s protections would not extend.

Almost exactly 1 year after reading that case, I found myself at 28 Liberty Street — a few steps from the Brooklyn Bridge, even fewer steps from Wall Street, and directly across from a Greek bakery to die for — dealing with a federal farming case of my own.

Thanks to Harvard Law School’s robust clinical offerings, this past January, I was fortunate enough to serve as an intern in the Labor Bureau of the Office of the New York State Attorney General. My very first day at the Bureau, I was staffed on a major federal district court litigation in New York concerning a state law that protected farmworkers’ workplace rights. It was thrilling to look up at the header of one of our briefs and see “Governor of New York” as the party that I was helping represent.

In the first few hours of that day, I learned that I would work directly with Karen Cacace, the indomitable Chief of the Labor Bureau. Because we were filing a brief only a few days after my start date at the Bureau, the team had an urgent need for someone to fill in various gaps — to ensure that all citations and final brief edits were perfect, to efficiently and cleanly organize all of our exhibits for filing, and to look into discrete research assignments to plug in certain areas for improvement in precedent, law, or facts. It was exciting that the Bureau trusted me, just a fledgling law student, to do all these things. I was deeply inspired by the level of supervision and spirit of professional trust with which the Bureau approached my being part of the team.

One of the most life-changing courses I took at Harvard was Employment Law with Professor Sharon Block, who taught me the importance of knowing not only the doctrine and interstices between concurrences and majority opinions, but also the real-world policy undergirding our system of laws. This is especially the case, I believe, with the law of workplace protections because the actual rules that govern work can sometimes clash with people’s more platonic ideals about what the experience of work should be.

Sometimes this means the rules should be changed; at others, this means that the platonic ideals need some tempering. But always, labor and employment law reflects decisions that policymakers have painstakingly made about how to allocate power in the economy, and it has a profound impact on who succeeds and who struggles economically in our country.

Because of my deep admiration for Professor Block, who served for twenty years in the federal government (to name just a few positions she held, as a member of the National Labor Relations Board, the Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, and the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy at the U.S. Department of Labor), I knew early on that federal government service interested me.

I also yearned, however, to understand what opportunities state government could provide. Harvard’s State Attorney General Clinic provided exactly that real-world deep dive. Because the federal litigation and the other cases I worked on involved all kinds of legal issues — federal preemption, state administrative law, and abstention, just to name a few — I found that I was putting my course knowledge from Federal Courts and Administrative Law to work almost every single day. It was surreal to use what I learned from school, for example, to have discussions on the law with the General Counsel of a major New York state administrative agency.

My supervisors, Marjorie Leff and Jennifer Michael, also ensured that I was exposed to the wide variety of cases state government lawyers engage with. On one particularly memorable day, I spent the morning doing moot oral arguments to prepare the Bureau Chief for the federal litigation, the afternoon researching local county laws’ determinations on interest rates for money paid by a municipality into a local court to be removed from a case as a defendant, and the evening investigating the Attorney General’s subpoena power for an ongoing civil investigation.

The highlight of my time was the inspiration I felt about how cooperative, kind, and brilliant everyone at the Office of the New York State Attorney General was. The dedication to public service was infused in everything that the office did. My final week at the office, I attended a televised press conference held by the New York Attorney General, Letitia James, announcing a $300 million settlement the office had won for New York taxi drivers. When she brought to the podium a few different taxi drivers to share what their narratives about what this settlement would mean for them. There was an immigrant father who through the money would finally be able to send his family back home, outside of the U.S., more funds to help support their livelihood. There was another driver who teared up at the thought of being able to support his wife in her small business endeavors, because he had never been able to make ends meet, put food on the table, and support her creative/artistic hobbies.

Thanks to kind mentorship and advising by Professor James Tierney and Professor Peter Brann, I was so inspired by these stories and my experiences that I continued during my final semester of law school by writing a Note, to be published in the Harvard Law Review this May, on the use of injunctive relief-focused settlements by state attorneys general across the political spectrum to achieve long-lasting workplace protections.

In an impassioned concurrence in Lauritzen, Judge Easterbrook lamented the majority’s use of a complex, multifactor balancing test that he thought added unnecessary legal haziness: “Why keep cucumber farmers in the dark about the legal consequences of their deeds?” During my time at the New York Attorney General’s Office, I was reminded many times of Judge Easterbrook’s dedication to the importance of law — oftentimes most helpful at its clearest and simplest — as applied to the lives of everyday people.

That ethos of lawyering for the people was the animating spirit of every minute I spent at the New York Attorney General’s Office.

Filed in: Clinical Student Voices

Tags: Class of 2024, Government Lawyer - State Attorney General Clinic

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