Hometown: Omaha, NE
Undergraduate Institution: University of Nebraska-Omaha
Undergraduate Degree: English
Joshua Weiner, a University of Iowa second year law student was awarded a Peggy Browning Fellowship to work for the Directorate of the Whistleblower Protection Program for the U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) this past summer in Washington D.C.
“It’s a bit different from what I would say a typical summer legal internship is like,” he said. “I worked on a couple legal memos and having a legal background is certainly helpful, but a lot of what our office did was measurement-driven analysis; preparing reports on programs, answering questions presented by the Government Accountability Office, things of that nature. It’s a great window into the world of an administrative agency.”
The Directorate of the Whistleblower Protection Program oversees the administration of the whistleblower provisions of 22 different federal statutes, ranging from occupational safety and health to securities regulation. A complaint filed with OSHA is investigated by OSHA staff through 10 Regional Offices. If a complaint is dismissed, the complainant can appeal that decision to the National Office; Weiner’s work includes working with those appeals.
He also worked on a report of ALJ decisions issued under the whistleblower provisions of the Surface Transportation Assistance Act over the past three years and collaborated on an Alternative Dispute Resolution Pilot Program.
Peggy Browning Fellowships provide law students with unique, diverse and challenging work experiences fighting for social and economic justice. These experiences encourage and inspire students to pursue careers in public interest labor law. The Peggy Browning Fund is a not for-profit organization established in memory of Margaret A. Browning, a prominent union-side attorney who was a member of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) from 1994 until 1997.
Weiner said he has always had an interest in helping others and advocating for what he believes in and felt attending law school would give him the opportunity to influence many people in a positive way – so the fellowship was a perfect fit.
He discovered the PBF through University of Iowa career services and applied online. The PBF offers 70-plus Fellowships each year through a variety of labor-oriented sponsors. The positions are typically posted in the fall for the upcoming summer, and applicants can apply for up to five positions, and Weiner applied for all five. He was notified of his offer last winter.
“I chose this Fellowship with OSHA because I was interested in seeing how a federal agency operated from the inside – from rulemaking to administration,” the 25 year old from Omaha, Nebraska said. “What I enjoyed most about my job is that I get to do things that are not necessarily in my comfort zone as a law student, but that require a lot of the same critical thinking skills.”
While attending the UI law school, Weiner is the research assistant for Professor Lea VanderVelde and said he owes her a special thanks for being supportive and teaching him to think about the law in a different way that has helped at OSHA.
In 2012 and 2013, Weiner participated in Citizen Lawyer Programs with both Iowa Legal Aid and the ACLU Immigration Project. He was a finalist in the 2013 Van Oosterhout-Baskerville Moot Court Competition and was also selected to participate in Supreme Court Day in the fall of 2013.
His previous work experiences include working for a workers’ compensation insurance company and an internship at Iowa Legal Aid in Council Bluffs, Iowa.
“I learned a great deal about being an advocate in my time with Iowa Legal Aid and I owe a lot of thanks to the attorneys there,” Weiner said.
His summer fellowship provided him with many experiences outside of a typical law internship, he said.
“It’s been a eye-opening experience into the world of government,” he said. “Very little in a government agency gets done in isolation. It takes a lot of contact with people and patience.
He plans to carry forward many of the opportunities and skills into his future career including network connections and crafting policy.
“This internship has really given me exposure on how to analyze data and prepare reports on it,” he said. “I know this isn’t necessarily legal, but the way that I think the industry is heading requires some technical savvy as well as experiences that make you marketable not just as a lawyer, but as someone who can offer consultation and understand issues from a policy standpoint.”
Weiner said one of the reasons he was attracted to the UI law school was the approachability of the law professors. He said they all share a demonstrable passion for molding competent, compassionate, and responsible lawyers.
But perhaps the greatest benefit he’s taken from law school, Weiner said, besides the obvious benefit of a legal education, is the confidence he’s gained. The ability to think on your feet and offer articulate, well-reasoned responses to questions is a skill that he thinks translates to any setting.
“Of course I was nervous about meeting my supervisor and making a good impression,” Weiner said of his fellowship position. “I’ve found in my experience, however, that mistakes are inevitable in any new position – but what is most important and what people will remember is your attitude and your willingness to learn.”