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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

What Does it Take to Work in D.C.? Talent, Grit, Leads and Patience

“This is the type of job students dream about, and it’s totally attainable,” said Professor David Takacs, who teaches environmental law.
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Andrew Rakestraw '12, Climate Negotiator at U.S. Department of State. "To work on climate change issues, the largest environmental issue of our generation, is fantastic. Everything matched up really well.”

Andrew Rakestraw ’12 has his dream job. He is working as an international climate negotiator for the U.S. State Department. “My first day on the job I was on a plane to Germany,” he said, from his office in Washington, D.C., where he works with Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern.

“This is the type of job students dream about, and it’s totally attainable,” said Professor David Takacs, who teaches environmental law.

But Rakestraw was not handed this plum. After graduating from UC Hastings in 2012 with several state and federal internships under his belt, he headed to D.C., without a job and just a few connections.

A native of Washington State, Rakestraw came to UC Hastings thinking he wanted to practice environmental law. His undergraduate degree, from University of Washington, is in international studies.

“After taking the statutory environmental law course with Professor Brian Gray, I saw I could combine my interest in law with my interest in working in a profession in which I feel passionately and strongly about the underlying subject matter,” Rakestraw says.

Setting His Sights

His path confirmed, Rakestraw took the California bar and moved to Washington, D.C., with little more than his running shoes, smartphone, and a handful of contacts from Professors Gray, Takacs, and John Leshy, who worked as Solicitor of the U.S. Department of the Interior under President Clinton.

“Very quickly, I learned that getting a job is entirely about meeting people,” Rakestraw says. Quite soon, he landed a non-paid position with the Obama campaign in September 2012. He served as deputy voter protection director for the D.C. area, recruiting and organizing 1,200 attorneys to be poll watchers on Election Day.

“I was meeting people, and getting quickly involved in politics,” he recalls. Despite his many duties with the Obama reelection campaign, he continued his own networking. “In D.C. alone, I did close to 225 informational interviews. I had them scheduled three to five times a week.” Rakestraw prepped for each interview as he would for a class or exam, he said.

Through those, he found a non-paying position on the Hill after the election. “It was a place for me to put down roots until I found something else,” he says. Rakestraw served as a fellow on the House Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition, and was supported in part by a UC Hastings’ Bridge Fellowship. “And I used that position to keep on meeting people.”

Networking as Art

Networking is both a sport and high art in Washington.  “It’s a very established practice here. People move jobs frequently, and it was easy, once I was in, to meet people here.”

“I literally would not have had one interview my entire time in D.C. had I not networked and met people,” Rakestraw says. “There are certainly times when you get discouraged. For me, what kept me going was knowing that I was meeting with people who genuinely wanted to help. The key is finding out ways for them to help you out. You have to know what to ask for.”

That confidence made Rakestraw an appealing candidate. “Our environmental law students are driven by a certain vision. They want to use the law to solve some of the most pressing problems we face this century,” Takacs said. “That work is driven by a kind of passion and idealism that is incredibly refreshing.”

Along the way, Rakestraw saw how his work at UC Hastings set him up for the position. He published a note in the Hastings International & Comparative Law Review on international law related to waste dumping from ships. That got him invited to present at a conference put on by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Add to that his clerkship with Earthjustice, his legal externship with the Environmental and Natural resources division of the state Department of Justice, and his externship with the Environment Unit of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in San Francisco, and he had a resume tailor-made for D.C. environmental policy work.

Educational Alchemy

“While at Hastings, I worked closely with professors and other students to critically analyze issues and generate creative solutions, both essential for my current role. Hastings really challenged me to look behind the legal doctrines and evaluate how law affects people in the real world.”

“The whole process could not have started for me without the support of my UC Hastings professors, who were willing to connect me with their contacts in D.C.,” Rakestraw says. “That made a huge difference.”

After six months with the House, Rakestraw landed his job with the State Department—a paying gig—and began the process of obtaining a security clearance. The hiring process took some time, he noted, but was well worth it. He coordinates negotiations on the post-Kyoto Protocol international regime, helps prepare U.S. submissions to the United Nations, and serves as managing editor of the U.S. Climate Action Report, which addresses all the efforts the U.S. is taking to address climate change. “For me the position is the perfect confluence of working in policy and international law.”

Rakestraw lives with his girlfriend in the Kalorama neighborhood, just north of Dupont Circle and Embassy Row. On the weekends, he jogs on the National Mall, hikes in Rock Creek Park, and camps in Shenandoah National Park. At UC Hastings, he founded and served as president of the Legal Eagles, the UC Hastings running club, and often ran the Mount Sutro Trail with Takacs, a fellow runner.

“If you had asked me to describe my dream job, this would be it,” Rakestraw said. “To work on climate change issues, the largest environmental issue of our generation, is fantastic. Everything matched up really well.”

Bridge Fellowships

UC Hastings’ Bridge Fellow Program provides meaningful work for UC Hastings graduates. This year, the college granted $230,000 to post-graduate Fellows, funding their employment in public interest, nonprofits, and government organizations for up to 12 weeks. With the chance to prove themselves on the job, graduates are often are able to convert these fellowships into permanent positions. For more information, contact the Office of Career & Professional Development.

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