When describing his experience thus far within the chambers of a Judge on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, John Schifalacqua (L’19) is quick to summarize the weight of the position. “The court house is a block from the Capitol,” John states. “You really feel like you’re at the epicenter of DC.” A second year student at Penn Law, John spent a few years working for the federal government in DC, as well as politics in Pittsburgh, before returning to pursue a degree at Penn. Now back in DC, John shares his experiences thus far working in the District Court, adjusting to non-student life, and enjoying what the city has to offer.
What areas of public policy interest you?
I’m most interested in regulatory affairs and litigation; the intersection of the two spans a broad range of substantive law that enormously influences public policy. People don’t always realize the effect that agency rulemaking and litigation has for driving public policy. The legal relationships between agencies, the government, and the public is at the epicenter of administrative law and it’s increasingly the space where the most consequential developments in law direct public policy. Government agencies often have broad discretion on how to execute their authority according to congressional statutes and I’m interested in being involved in the spaces that work through the legal challenges involved. I’ve been fortunate to have my hand in a number of related areas working in DC in previous jobs, spanning from law enforcement, white-collar defense, international affairs, and general litigation. It’s great to be with the District Court this summer to witness the complexity and development of these fields. I hope to stay involved in administrative law after school.
What is the first thing you do when you get to the office every morning?
First thing I do is get settled and read the news. Working at a federal district court, all matters going on in DC can end up in the court’s lap, so I try to stay apprised of the news, and then map out my agenda for the day; what needs to get done, what hearings I need to pay attention to, etc.
What does a typical day in DC look like for you?
After braving the morning commute, I usually make my way to the judge’s chambers relatively early and get my agenda settled for the day. I’m generally in the chambers from 9 to 6, and spend the rest of the day catching up with coworkers and friends. For law students, we really try to use our summers effectively, so I try to go to as many law firm receptions and networking events as possible to get ready for the upcoming recruiting season. This summer, for me, is about connecting with professionals, learning about the practice of law in DC, and spending my time after work taking in what DC has to offer. I usually get home around ten, call it a day, and start anew.
Have there been any surprises regarding living and working as an intern in DC?
Well, it’s not my first go around in DC. I think, though, having lived the student life in Philadelphia for a while, coming back to DC is definitely a different experience. There are a lot of important things going here that create a certain fast paced, serious atmosphere. For the most part, though, it’s great to be back in a city and re-acclimate to a working and living environment that is pretty unique compared to other cities. Here, it’s all politics, power, and people gunning to make a mark.
Name one object that you brought with you to DC that reflects your personality.
I’m a bit of a nomad, so I travel lightly, but I do carry my old alumni membership card and my old student ID from the University of Virginia in my wallet, which, having moved around so often, helps me remember my roots. It’s always heartening to run into fellow Wahoos across the city!
In 30 years, what will you remember about living and working in DC?
From a professional level, I’ll take with me an insider view of how judges come to their decisions and a better appreciation for how the judicial system works. In the capacity of working in a district court, you realize that you are a part of an important process that makes a big difference. Once you’re out of the courts and acting more as an advocate, it’ll be important to appreciate the process by which judges and members of the judiciary really strive to come to just rulings and craft your strategy accordingly. Working here during my transitionary summer and the start of my legal career, it’s comforting to know that the people in the judiciary put a lot of effort and personal stake to make sure the decisions they make are just ones.
More personally, I appreciate all the people I’m meeting. The law students, clerks, attorneys: these are all invaluable connections and friendships that will hopefully last a long time.