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The Path from Information Technology to Researching Unanswerable Questions

Third-year student Jerad Whitt came to law after realizing he was craving something more than his undergraduate education could give him. Now, he’s spending the summer working with the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB).

Whitt grew up in Lexington and attended the University of Kentucky, studying sociology. When he entered the workforce, it was in project management and information technology (IT). His first job at Contingent Network Services centered around coordinating schedules and hiring contractors for short-term projects. Next, he moved on to Christ Hospital Health Network, where he was in charge of doing large-scale IT roll-outs.

After three years of working in that vein, Whitt realized he needed more. He began talking to friends and family, those who were attorneys as well as those who had decided against it, to figure out what he wanted to do next.

Law school, Whitt determined, would fit his skill set while still providing an intellectual challenge. Law required more precision, and the generality of project management was something he wanted to get away from.

“I like the act of creating something like you do in law school,” said Whitt of his decision.

When Whitt interviewed with TTB, he had already developed an interest in working for the federal government. His first externship was at the state level in the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, so he was looking to gain a fresh perspective.

TTB’s responsibilities include “enforcing the provisions of the Federal Alcohol Administration Act (FAA Act) to ensure that only qualified persons engage in the alcohol beverage industry. We are responsible for enforcing the laws regulating alcohol production, importation, and wholesale businesses; tobacco manufacturing and importing businesses; and alcohol labeling and advertising.”

An additional draw to the TTB was that it is an executive agency, and deals with an aspect of the law that many people aren’t knowledgeable about.

So far, Whitt has thoroughly enjoyed his work. His main responsibility is researching the interpretation of statutes and regulations. Because the TTB is an executive agency, it typically does not deal with cases once they reach the litigation point, meaning that Whitt has not written any motions or other court documents.

“I’ve enjoyed the complex issues I’ve been asked to research. I usually get questions about issues that don’t have a lot of precedent, so you sometimes have to stretch what you can find to apply to your argument,” said Whitt.

These issues have included things such as how the interpretation of statutes dealing with tobacco producers and export warehouses governs a company’s trade practices. Whitt is tasked with determining what positions are supportable and what may open the company up to an arbitrary and capricious ruling.

“When I talk about it out loud it sounds dry, but it’s not! It’s fun!” laughed Whitt.

To him, the most challenging aspect of the job is the flip side of the same coin.

Because many of the cases have no precedent, determining where to take the argument next can be complicated. In those cases, Whitt works until he hits a wall, and then turns to his coworkers for help.

“Sometimes you get questions that there’s not an answer to,” said Whitt, “and that can be frustrating.”

Viewing this experience as a whole, Whitt has no regrets. Rather than working in the typically-portrayed courtroom and trial setting, he has been exposed to the practical application of the law in a government setting.

“I’ve gotten to see the thought process behind statutory enforcement,” said Whitt. “Whether I end up working in government or in-house, I have exposure to how people who are responsible for statutes read and interpret them, and that’s going to be beneficial.”

Author: Michelle Flanagan, ‘18, Communication Intern