Learning by Doing

Peter Brocker (’15) observes federal litigation through his Semester-in-Practice at the New York City Office of Corporate Counsel.

Peter Brocker ('15)
Peter Brocker (’15)

While other law students were taking notes in lectures on the BU Law complex last semester, Peter Brocker (’15) found himself thrust into the hustle and bustle of the New York City Office of Corporate Counsel, experiencing federal litigation practice firsthand.

Brocker was taking advantage of BU Law’s Semester-in-Practice (SiP) program; one of the many valuable clinical programs the School offers its students. The SiP is an opportunity to work full time for credit for one semester at a partner organization—like the UNHCR in Geneva, Switzerland—or at a government organization, firm, nonprofit, or another legal placement anywhere in the US or abroad.

Early on, Brocker knew that he wanted to maximize the amount of practical experience he gained during law school. The year before his SiP, Brocker participated in BU Law’s Immigrants’ Rights Clinic (IRC), a part-time, year-long clinical program in which he represented real clients facing deportation. “With the IRC, I was working on political asylum cases before the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice,” Brocker says. “That was the best preparation for my externship.”

Determined to do federal litigation work in New York City, Brocker opted to develop his own SiP program. “I knew I wanted to go into litigation in New York City, and federal courts were more familiar than New York State courts from my law classes,” Brocker says. To find a relevant externship, Brocker targeted organizations whose work matched his specific career goals.

“The Office of Corporate Counsel did not offer an official externship program for BU Law students, so I had to cold apply with my resume and cover letter,” Brocker says. “I didn’t hear back immediately, so I remained persistent and kept following up with them.” Initial contact with a woman from the legal recruitment got the ball rolling, and Brocker was eventually invited to work for the department.

Once the Fall Semester came around, Brocker moved to the city to begin his new full-time position in the New York City Office of Corporate Counsel. He worked for the department’s Special Federal Litigation Division, which handles civil rights defenses. “When a plaintiff filed a civil rights suit against the City of New York or an employee in federal court, Special Federal Litigation would get the case,” Brocker says.

Brocker’s work for the Office of Corporate Counsel spanned many different aspects of federal litigation practice, but was always useful and hands-on. His experiences dealing with civil rights cases particularly illuminated for him the world the NYPD operates in—he learned how a simple trespass arrest can lead to a lengthy and complicated two- or three-year lawsuit.

One of Brocker’s most valuable experiences in the externship was the opportunity to take a deposition from a victim of domestic violence. “Her longtime boyfriend had been arrested for the crime, but she later changed her account of the events, so I needed to draw out the true story,” Brocker says. “It was a delicate situation to go into, but it turned out to be great experience.”

Looking back on his SiP, Brocker realizes how much he gained from BU Law’s clinical programs. “BU Law allowed me the opportunity to engage in real-world work while still in school. For nearly my entire law school career, I have had some sort of practical clinic or externship experience going on,” Brocker says. The SiP in particular taught him a lot: “My skill set developed quickly when I was working full time,” he says. “I learned as much from my one semester in the SiP as I did working part-time for a whole year through the IRC,” he says.

Brocker credits his SiP with providing practical experience to complement his classroom experiences, and its prime location in New York City offered excellent networking opportunities. “My goal has always been to work in litigation in New York City,” he says. “My Semester-in-Practice is the perfect springboard to help me achieve that goal.”

Brocker will return to the New York City Law Department in the fall to begin his full-time career.

Reported by Johanna Gruber (CAS ’17)