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An Interview with Conleth Burns, Foreign Law Intern

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Today’s interview is with Conleth Burns, a foreign law intern working this summer in the Global Legal Research Directorate (GLRD) of the Law Library of Congress.

Conleth Burns standing in the great hall of the Library of Congress.
Conleth Burns, Foreign Law Intern [photo by Donna Sokol]
Describe your background.

I grew up on a farm in a small rural village called Armoy, in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. My mum was a local doctor; my dad was a civil servant. I’ve got one sister and two brothers. I’m really lucky to have grown up in a beautiful place with a strong community where people know and care for each other. I’m in D.C. this summer as a member of the Class of 2017 of the Washington Ireland Programme (WIP). The WIP program, now in its 23rd year, is dedicated to leadership and service. Over 600 students from Ireland have taken part in the program and have come to D.C. for 8 weeks to learn, live, and work.

What is your academic/professional history?

I’ve just finished my first year studying for a BA in Law (Jurisprudence) at the University of Oxford. When I started secondary school at Cross and Passion College, I didn’t want to be a lawyer or go to Oxford. For a while I wanted to be an architect and then a doctor. Getting involved in debating at school really changed my mind and career path. A group of inspiring teachers and mentors at school challenged, inspired, and helped me to aim higher. A free school trip to Oxford turned into an application to study there, then an interview, until finally I was accepted at university there and got the grades. My passion is in public law and that’s where I see the rest of my career progressing.

How would you describe your job to other people?

Every day at the Global Legal Research Center is like a trip around the world. I could start off the day at home researching Irish and British law, writing blogs about the recent elections, or commenting on Supreme Court judgements. In the afternoon, I have found myself researching everything from scuba-diving regulations in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines to legal citation systems in Belize. Working in the Global Legal Research Center is like working in the air-traffic control room of the laws of the world. Our job is to monitor all the incoming and outgoing legal flights and landings in the world, and pass this information on to all those interested.

Why did you want to work at the Law Library of Congress?

I wanted to work for an organization that serves everyone: both sides of the aisle, from students in rural Ireland to the bench of the Supreme Court of the United States. The Law Library is serving people and politics by providing both with high quality, objective, innovative, and timely advice. With 2.9 million volumes, the Law Library of Congress is the largest in the world. I wanted to work at the Law Library because it is best placed to help people all over the world navigate their legal questions and challenge.

What is the most interesting fact you’ve learned about the Law Library?

I think the fact that the Library accommodates 260 current and former jurisdictions is the most interesting fact I’ve learnt. You can see this physically in the sub-basement of the library, jurisdiction after jurisdiction is housed in the library. Hundreds of years of legislation, regulation, and commentary is preserved and used here to help form legal reasoning across the world. The best thing about this fact is that information from all 260 jurisdictions is requested every day.

What’s something most of your co-workers do not know about you?

I love karaoke. Last week, we had the now annual-WIP Karaoke Party, and it was great fun. I kept hold of the microphone all night, so much so that I had no voice for about 2 days!

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