As graduation approaches, 3L prepares to join Federal Honors Attorney Program
By: Madeleine Thomas
After nearly five years working in the private sector for General Electric (GE), 3L Jay Payne, a third generation Buckeye, enrolled at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law with a dream of pivoting into a new career in public service law.
Payne’s grandparents met as undergraduates at Ohio State in the 1940s and his parents, members of Moritz’s classes of 1984 and 1985, met as law students. For the last two-and-a-half years he has been dedicated to exploring legal opportunities that take advantage of his civil and environmental engineering background.
“For the first time in my life I’ve felt like I was able to pursue my interests, perhaps because I had enough time to reflect and identify them,” Payne said. “Most importantly, my classmates’ provided me with positive energy when times were tough. I’ve never been surrounded by such a motivated and passionate group of people.”
When he graduates this spring, Payne will join the Federal Honors Attorney Program at the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), a highly-selective, entry-level federal attorney pipeline. He’ll spend two years rotating through the DOT’s Office of the General Counsel and complete up to six rotations in various Chief Counsel offices. Each rotation lasts four months, giving honors attorneys the opportunity to work in various administrative law areas including federal grants, enforcement actions, regulatory rulemaking, consumer protection, and general litigation. Previous participants have helped settle railroad safety regulation violations and evaluate requests from major airlines.
Payne’s passion for public service law was cultivated in large part due to the resources Moritz dedicates specifically to the field, including the Public Interest Law Foundation (PILF), which helped fund his rent as an unpaid intern in Washington, D.C.; the college’s Public Service Law Center; and the various professors who helped connect him with scholarship opportunities and meetings with government officials.
“I came into law school knowing that I was going to get a pay cut from where I was and I was happy to do so. But having those small resources along the way helped reassure me that I was on the right path instead of drowning in debt,” he said.
Hands-on learning has always been vital to Payne’s success as a student. As an undergraduate at the University of Cincinnati, he was actively involved in the university’s cooperative education program and completed eight internships with GE Aviation before negotiating a delayed entry into GE’s operations and regulatory compliance leadership program. Payne used his six months off to backpack internationally and to intern on the Hill in former Speaker John Boehner’s Leadership Office.
“I’ve never considered myself a very good student; I’ve always considered myself a very hard worker. The experiential side of learning was always my strength,” Payne said. “Experiential learning was also a key part of my own reflection to figure out my path. I came into law school knowing that clinics and internships were going to be a big priority for me.”
Payne returned to the aviation industry—this time from a regulatory perspective—as an extern for the Federal Aviation Administration in the Office of the Chief Counsel, Airports and Environmental Law Division through the college’s Washington, D.C., Summer Program. The autumn of his 2L year he also externed with Judge Jeffrey Sutton, who sits on the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
His involvement in the college’s Legislation Clinic ultimately proved to be the most transformative in his law school experience. The clinic, one of the few of its kind in the country, matches students with legislative leaders as they prepare to introduce new matters before the Ohio House and Senate.
Payne was placed in Gov. John Kasich’s Office of Legislative Affairs and was part of the team that conducted conversations between the governor’s office and the state legislature regarding Kasich’s proposed biannual budget. He also worked on the 2018-2019 Transportation Budget Bill, a subset of the general state funding bill, which expanded investments in self-driving cars and the creation of smart highways across Ohio. Payne returned to the governor’s office the autumn of his 3L year as an intern for legal counsel.
“The Legislation Clinic brought me to law school,” Payne said. “It really resonated with me—a chance to work with state leaders in my home state, making a substantive impact. The opportunity was one of the best things that ever happened to me in law school and helped me identify potential internships and explore various career paths. The clinic was one of the most positive experiences of my life.”