Spotlight: Experiential Learning at the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office

The San Francisco City Attorney’s Office welcomes some of the brightest law students from across the country into its ranks every semester. Interns work closely with deputy city attorneys, receive mentoring, and build skills as they contribute to legal projects in an office known for pioneering municipal impact litigation and providing the day-to-day legal muscle that keeps San Francisco functioning.

Thanks partly to its proximity to City Hall, UC Law SF has a storied history with the office. The late Burk “Buck” Delventhal ’69, spent his entire career there –49 years—as a city servant and steward of the City Charter. His enthusiasm as a Hastings adjunct led scores of students into government work.

Today, Deputy City Attorney Virginia Dario Elizondo ’81 teaches UC Law SF’ local government law seminar as an adjunct professor and serves as a mentor for students. She joined the City Attorney’s Office in 1989 and works on the Health and Human Services team.

“Government law offers challenging and timely questions that affect our daily lives and our communities,” Elizondo said. “I am still engaged in the issues that inspired me to become a lawyer. I had wonderful mentors along the way, notably Buck, who still guides me. I enjoy working with the interns. I find them creative and refreshing.”

Many UC Law SF alums have passed through the City Attorney’s Office on their career paths, including Kamala Harris ’89, who served there from 2000 to 2004 and ran the Children & Family Services Team, handling child abuse and neglect cases. Classmate Matthew Davis ’89 was with the office from 1992 to 2001, where he prosecuted a number of groundbreaking consumer protection lawsuits, including one in which Bank of America was accused of mishandling government bond funds, which settled for $187 million.

Today, more than three dozen Hastings alums work in the City Attorney’s Office, including four team managers. They are Kimiko Burton ’90, head of the Children & Family Services Team; Theresa Mueller ’94, head of the Energy & Telecommunications Team; Katharine Porter ’94, who heads the Employment Law Team; and Matthew Rothschild ’85, who heads the Claims Team.

Finding an On-Ramp

UC Law SF students interested in working with the City Attorney’s Office have four options. They can volunteer in a no-credit internship during the summer or school year. Or, in the fall, they can earn three to five units and co-enroll in the Legal Externships seminar. Or, in the spring, they can earn four or five units and co-enroll in Hastings’ Local Government Clinic. Lastly, students can participate in other clinics, such as the Environmental Law Clinic, and apply to a relevant team, such as Land Use. For all four options, students apply directly to the City Attorney’s Office.

Each program offers a slightly different experience. Students are team members who draft briefs, contracts, and legislation, and participate in attorney-client meetings and research a myriad of interesting questions. They work on the pressing legal cases and issues the office handles, such as supporting public health initiatives in response to the coronavirus pandemic or San Francisco’s bid to acquire certain PG&E assets to create safe, affordable, and reliable public power.

Government Team

Aaron Chase ’20 was embedded with the city’s Government Team his Fall 2019 semester. His cubicle was right next to Delventhal’s office.

Aaron Chase ’20

“He would casually walk up and ask what I was working on. He would effectively offer me private little classes about the law.” Often, Chase said, Delventhal gave him assignments to make sure he understood the law better. “He was a brilliant man, and I adored listening to him. It was all off the top of his head. I wish I had known enough in the moment to take notes on everything he said. He cared so much about the law, and he made you care about it, too.”

Chase worked on interpretation of “sunshine” or open-governance ordinances, as well as immunity standards for law enforcement officers. His favorite project, however, was updating materials regarding the city’s legal rights during disasters, such as when the city invoked martial law following the 1906 earthquake.

COVID Response

3L Kristin Lahaszow interned for the Government Team during Spring 2020, and then worked as a summer associate with Jones Day’s San Diego office. After graduation, she will return to Jones Day, and hopes to work in local government someday.

Kristen Lahaszow ’20

“As the COVID-19 situation progressed, I was asked to look at the statutory provisions cited in the first Public Health Order and look into any possible cases where violations of similar health orders were held accountable – either through fines or arrest.

“This was extremely interesting because there was very little case law on this topic because this is such a unique and unprecedented experience. Seeing how quickly all sectors of local government sprang into action in partnership with the private sector was an invaluable insight into collaborative teamwork.”

Land Use Team

Kristin Glover ’20 spent her 2L summer in 2019 with the city’s Land Use Team. She called it “a priceless opportunity.”  She’s now clerking with the Alaska Supreme Court, after her supervisor at the City Attorney’s Office suggested she apply for the position. She plans to take the February 2021 California bar exam.

Kristin Glover ’20

“I sat in on meetings with representatives from the Board of Supervisors and city planners, as well as settlement conferences. I worked on everything from short research memos to writing a summary and analysis of a recently decided U.S. Supreme Court decision, and then presenting that at a team meeting.”

She also assisted in researching and drafting a brief for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and later attended oral arguments for the case. “It was invaluable to observe brilliant attorneys in action, watching them run circles around opposing counsel, while being privy to their strategy and preparation,” she said. “San Francisco has long been known as a place at the forefront of technological and cultural innovation, but it is also a city on the cutting edge of local government, and being able to witness that first hand was a priceless opportunity.”

Learn More

Learn more from interns and their experiences here. Applications for the Spring 2021 session are due Oct. 16, 2020.