J.J. Wilson: Becoming a legislative correspondent

Published: December 1st, 2008

Category: Feature

JJ WilsonFor recent UF Law grad J.J. Wilson (JD 07), a change of heart in law school has led to her landing a competitive job with a United States Senator.

Wilson now serves as a legislative correspondent and staff attorney for Senator Arlen Specter, from Pennsylvania.

“When I applied to law school I did so with the intent of becoming an NCAA Compliance Officer for a collegiate athletic program,” Wilson said. “However, it is very easy to get caught up in ‘1Lism’ and so I found myself looking more to public interest law. After interviewing with various government agencies in Florida, I found myself looking more and more to ‘the Hill.’”

But breaking into working for United States legislators is not easy, Wilson said.

“I had tried to intern here while still in school, but this is hard to do if you don’t live here as the hiring process can happen fast, most positions are through word of mouth, I had not made many connections yet, and most Congressional internships are unpaid,” Wilson said.

So Wilson took the daring step of moving to Washington, D.C. without a job. Then she was browsing the online Senate Employment Bulletin when she noticed the position. Over 100 people applied for the one open spot, Wilson said.

First, she interviewed with Specter’s legislative director and the legislative assistant for her portfolio.

“At the end of the interview, I was asked to prepare a memo as soon as possible for the Senator regarding a piece of legislation that was currently pending in the Senate,” Wilson said. “It took several hours to complete as I had never tracked legislation before, was not familiar with the Senator’s voting record, and had never heard of the issue. However, the research and writing skills I learned in law school proved very helpful.”

Based on her memo and interview, Wilson was granted a second interview with Specter’s chief of staff and administrative director. After that went well, she had a final interview with Specter himself, and he approved of her being hired.

Wilson has a number of duties in her position. She serves as a liaison between Specter and his constituents, handling requests, complaints and concerns with her legislative portfolio, “which include business issues, financial services, social security, tax reform, and telecommunication issues,” she said. She also tracks legislation related to her portfolio and writes memorandum on bills, which includes making policy recommendations.

The recent $700 billion Wall Street bailout has been a big issue for Wilson.

“As the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 (EESA) falls under my portfolio, I have been experiencing an increased number of phone calls and letters,” she said. “I will also make calls to federal agencies such as the SEC and the Treasury requesting updates on issues related to the economic crisis and the EESA.”

Although it took Wilson several months to land her job, she stressed that it was worth it and any law student that is interested should persevere like she did until a job happens. She has some other advice for any other law students looking for similar jobs.

“If you want to pursue employment on the Hill or D.C. in general, my best advice is to start networking,” Wilson said. “The DC Gators is the second largest University of Florida Alumni Club in the country. Contacting the DC Gators is a great first step. If it is feasible for you to move up here, networking is much easier as is the application and interviewing process.”