Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. FFRF.org

Catching up with former FFRF legal interns

Vol. 37 No. 06 August 2020
Stephanie (Schmitt) Thompson                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

FFRF has been hiring law school students to work as paid interns to help its legal department since 2008. FFRF contacted several of these former interns to see what they have been up to since they left. 


Jarvis Idowu

When were you an intern at FFRF?

2012-15.

Where did you attend law school?

University of Wisconsin-Madison.

What is your current occupation?

Director of programming for Prosecutor Impact in Philadelphia.

What did you learn or do at FFRF that helped you in your future studies and/or career?

Drafting portions of briefs and letters really improved my writing. The culture at FFRF also raised the bar. I try to model the approach to support and feedback I received from attorneys Andrew L. Seidel, Rebecca Markert, Patrick Elliott and Liz Cavell in my current work.

What is your fondest memory of working at FFRF?

Going to “Christian movie night” at Andrew’s house and watching a Fox News anchor read a portion of the letter I helped draft to Clemson University.

What advice do you have for current or future legal interns?

Grind. There’s plenty of work to be done on this front, and the folks on the other side of the table seem to be more brazen than ever.


Kristen Fox

When were you an intern at FFRF?

Summer and fall of 2011

Where did you attend law school?

University of Wisconsin-Madison.

What is your current occupation?

I am a sales and product trainer with Volkswagen. Prior to that, I was a college professor (with an emphasis on constitutional law).

What did you learn or do at FFRF that helped you in your future studies and/or career?

You’re given a lot of autonomy as you work, but you also always have support, so it was a great preview of when you’re working in the legal profession. Additionally, I learned about the resources available for legal research that extend far beyond the typical LexisNexis/WestLaw offerings. I also love that you’re encouraged to write in a relatable way, which is not always possible in standard legal writing. Creativity and clarity are encouraged.

What is your fondest memory of working at FFRF?

Honestly, as cheesy as it may sound, my favorite part was discovering a community of like-minded colleagues and sharing our experiences, particularly when it came to the irreligious aspects. Some people grew up without religion, and others (like me) grew up in extremely repressive areas hostile to freethinkers and equality. The friendships I made in my year with FFRF endure today, and I will always be grateful for the opportunity to meet such amazing people — from Dan Barker, Annie Laurie Gaylor, Rebecca Markert and the rest of the Madison crew to other interns scattered from California to New England. (Being interviewed by national media outlets as a law student was pretty cool, too, but the people are even better.)

What advice do you have for current or future legal interns?

There’s such a wealth of knowledge and experience at FFRF, and so many opportunities to get involved in the organization and cause. Be sure to take advantage of all of those resources available to you! Also, if you’re not from the Madison area, take the time to explore the beautiful city. There is always something to do, whether you’re into exploring the outdoors, checking out local art and culture, or just relaxing with some of the country’s best beer!


Stephanie (Schmitt) Thompson

When were you an intern at FFRF?

I was the first legal intern for FFRF. It was the summer of 2008.

Where did you attend law school?

Southern Illinois School of Law.

What is your current occupation?

Owner and attorney of Krueger, Hernandez & Thompson.

What did you learn or do at FFRF that helped you in your future studies and/or career?

Written communication is truly the most important skill for every attorney. Whether it’s in the form of email, letters or briefs, one must learn how to communicate effectively in all settings. FFRF gave me experiences with all of these and it was this stepping stone that allowed me to advance my career in other areas of law.

What is your fondest memory of working at FFRF?

I have made lifelong friends while working for FFRF and am truly grateful for those relationships.

My fondest memory that is actually work-related was assisting Rebecca Markert with the first amicus brief written by FFRF’s own staff attorneys. The topic was fascinating and the timeline was incredibly short, but we successfully completed the task and it felt incredible to know the U.S. Supreme Court would be reading the words I compiled, even though I’m sure only a few small portions were actually my contribution to the final product.

What advice do you have for current or future legal interns?

Do it and enjoy it. There are very few opportunities out there that will provide this type of experience.


Olivia Mote

When were you an intern at FFRF?

In 2014, during the spring semester of my first year of law school.

Where did you attend law school?

The University of Wisconsin-Madison Law School.

What is your current occupation?

I am a private-practice attorney with the law firm of Eustice, Laffey, Sebranek & Auby, S.C. My home base is our firm’s Capitol Square office in Madison, Wis., but we also have an office in nearby Sun Prairie, Wis. I clerked for the firm during law school and joined them as an attorney upon graduation.

What did you learn or do at FFRF that helped you in your future studies and/or career?

I benefited a great deal, professionally and personally, from my time at FFRF. Prior to attending law school, I completed a master’s degree in comparative religion and taught religious studies courses at Miami University in Ohio. The academic study of religion remains one of my passions. The internship at FFRF allowed me to draw on my religious studies education and also apply the new skills I was learning in law school. At FFRF, I learned about First Amendment jurisprudence and was trained by skilled FFRF attorneys to advocate for policies and practices that respect the separation between religion and government.

What is your fondest memory of working at FFRF?

I really enjoyed the whole experience of interning. But perhaps what I now treasure most about my time at FFRF is the inspiration provided by FFRF’s legal department. The staff attorneys are smart, passionate lawyers working diligently to honor and protect First Amendment freedoms. FFRF serves a critical role on behalf of all of us who believe our government should be secular.

What advice do you have for current or future legal interns?

Take every opportunity to learn and practice new skills. Internships are an important supplement to classroom education. As an intern, you get to try on a little bit of the life you may lead after graduation, and each insight you gain can not only make you a better advocate once you’re licensed, but can also help you understand what types of work suit you. Beyond that, the best advice I have is to dig in and relish your time at FFRF, because what you’re doing there is fun, meaningful and truly makes a difference.


JJ Rolling

When were you an intern at FFRF?

The summer of 2012. I continued working with the organization through the fall semester of that year.

Where did you attend law school?

University of Wisconsin Law School.

What is your current occupation?

I am an attorney in private practice with a law firm of approximately 175 attorneys. Generally, I represent private parties involved in real estate litigation matters. More specifically, these matters typically involve eminent domain, property tax assessments, easements, and disputes related to water, highways and power lines.

Because the use of eminent domain is limited by the Fifth Amendment (as well as state constitutions), I actually still deal with constitutional issues.

What did you learn or do at FFRF that helped you in your future studies and/or career?

Law students start out with the notion that legal writing comes in two forms: the memo or the brief. What FFRF taught us was that skilled advocates can make effective, concise legal arguments in everything they write.

As for a nuts-and-bolts topic, another thing I draw on today is what I learned about the structure of various governmental bodies. FFRF’s members contacted us about issues with a number of different types of governmental units. There were boards, cities with administrators, villages with executives, officers, and managers, to name a few. By virtue of writing to these different groups and determining who was in charge of each, I came away with a practical sense of how various public bodies operate. I draw on that structural knowledge today when representing landowners in matters involving a diverse set of governmental units.

What is your fondest memory of working at FFRF?

I really liked how the interns were included in legal team meetings. We sat around a large boardroom table and the legal team went over developments in the matters they were overseeing. During one meeting, there was a lot of excitement because Andrew L. Seidel had just finished preparing a white paper regarding the Founders, and FFRF’s Legal Director Rebecca Markert had just been working hard to get affidavits for a federal matter, and the other attorneys were talking about a number of national cases on which they were working. A lot was happening, and there was a real sense of positive energy. It was exciting to be a part of.

What advice do you have for current or future legal interns?

While the Establishment Clause is only a few words long, its interpretation fills casebooks. But recognize that an internship with FFRF provides you with the unique opportunity work alongside a team of attorneys who share subject-matter expertise in that extremely focused area. And, the positive energy and sense of common purpose make the team pretty nurturing for the soon-to-be-attorney. With that in mind, trust yourself and your ability to learn and begin to understand this area of the law. You are learning alongside experts, so it would be a waste to keep your head down.