Running the Los Angeles County Superior Court: A Conversation With Judge Daniel Buckley

Last week, Judge Daniel Buckley, Presiding Judge of the Los Angeles County Superior Court, graciously took time to speak with me about his career path, life as a judge, and how Notre Dame has impacted him along the way. Judge Buckley attended Notre Dame for both his undergraduate and law degrees and is always eager to speak with students and to help them secure internships in the court. If you want to speak with Judge Buckley, email me and I will put you in touch.

What the Presiding Judge of Los Angeles County Superior Court Does

As Presiding Judge of the Los Angeles County Superior Court, Judge Buckley manages the largest unified court in the country and likely in the world. The LA county superior court has 570 judicial officers.

Judge Buckley’s day to day life consists primarily of meetings. He commented “I sometimes have a meeting to plan a meeting.” He handles everything on the judge side and then also gets involved in overall policy. He can go from dealing with proper security in the courtroom or courthouse to complaints about judges to being the face of the court so he frequently speaks at bar association and other events as to the state of the court. On top of all of that, he also deals with the politics of revenue for the court, meets with legislators, and maintains a good relationship with Los Angeles county.

Lastly, Judge Buckley’s job also consists of meeting with judges, going to Sacramento for a state-wide meeting of presiding judges and CEOs, and assigning judges. When a new judge comes on board, Judge Buckley decides where the judge will go and all of the moves that result from that.

Most courts are not large enough to have a Presiding Judge whose job it is to manage the court without also having an active caseload but LA county is so large, that the courts need such a judge.  Judge Buckley will be in this position for two years and then he jokes hopefully continue the tradition of the Presiding Judge deciding wherever he wants to go. He expects to go back to civil court but he has done everything as a judge including misdemeanors, felonies, and probate.

Judge Buckley’s Career Path

Judge Buckley did not have a strong desire to be a lawyer. He wanted to be a teacher. And he has taught many classes, including serving as an instructor in Notre Dame’s Intensive Trial Advocacy class, teaching judge classes, and teaching at local Los Angeles law schools.

Before becoming a judge, Judge Buckley stayed at one firm for his entire law career. He interned at a civil litigation firm during his 2L summer and it turned out that he loved the people and it was a great place to get excellent experience. He returned to the firm to begin practicing after his third year in law school and was there for 22 years.  While at the firm, Judge Buckley had a wide civil defense practice and tried several cases. His career case was a one year trial where he represented the state of California in a toxic tort case. He also did some legal malpractice, insurance agent malpractice,  and because of his substantial trial experience, he was frequently called to step in and handle more difficult trials for the firm.

I asked Judge Buckley how he became a judge and he said that he was encouraged by a dear friend to consider it but he thought he didn’t have the right political connections. He turned out to be incorrect when he was ultimately appointed by Governor Gray Davis in 2002.

As Presiding Judge, Judge Buckley does not currently hear cases because he spends his time managing the court. Before he became Presiding Judge, Judge Buckley served as an Assistant Presiding Judge, where he was the supervising judge of the civil division, which involved supervising 170 judicial officers.

Judge Buckley is a brand new Presiding Judge. He has been in the new role for about a month. He enjoys the job because he gets to work with all of the details of every little aspect of the court. In his words, he now gets to spend 2 years being a public servant to all of the Los Angeles Superior Court judges and to work to make their daily lives better.

How Notre Dame Has Shaped Judge Buckley

At Notre Dame, Judge Buckley was surrounded by really good people and was shaped by having relationships and friendships with them, Sheila O’Brien, a former judge on the Illinois First District Appellate Court, being the best example. Judge Buckley loves Notre Dame because graduates are asked to look at the human side and the human condition. He says about judges who are Notre Dame alumni “Our faith has always directed us and we will always follow the law as judges.”

He believes that Notre Dame focuses more on the compassionate, healing side of the law and judging. Judge Buckley praises the quality of people who went to Notre Dame and said that he consistently meets Notre Dame students and alumni who impress him.

Interning at the Los Angeles County Superior Court

For Judge Buckley, talking to students is the most important thing  that he can do. If you want a job in the court, Judge Buckley invites you to email him. You can get his email address from me. He told me “We can provide an opportunity for a summer internship with the LA Superior Court to every ND student that wants it.”

He said of the experience interning in the court that it is “invaluable experience to see what happens directly in the courtroom.” You can see civil, criminal, and other courts. If you are assigned to civil court, you will do workups, have assignments through the research attorney, and watch the arguments. If you are assigned to criminal court, there is less need for daily research so it is more about observation and you can see some of the most high profile types of cases. If you want to intern for the LA Superior Court and getting a writing sample is important to you, be sure to request a civil assignment.

When Judge Buckley was in the trial court, hearing cases, he had his interns watch settlement conferences, conferred with them about why he ruled a particular way, and he talked to interns about what he thought of how lawyers presented themselves.

Judge Buckley’s Advice for Law Students

Judge Buckley always recommends that every student try and take intensive trial advocacy. He has come back to Notre Dame every semester for the past 8-9 years to teach it. No matter what you do, Judge Buckley says, to learn how to think well on your feet will have a career-long impact.

He also encourages students not to lose sight of the special nature of Notre Dame. He says he is always struck by how well ND students get along and how ND Law lacks intense competition or pressure. He encourages students to continue to have that as good lawyers and says “you don’t have to be unnecessarily mean or tough to be a very good lawyer.”

He said that “civility is our biggest struggle in the courts especially.” He encourages all attorneys to prioritize maintaining civility and getting to know your adversary. Maintain civility.

I asked what job search advice Judge Buckley had for law students and he said that “the unfortunate reality is you need to get out there and meet all types of people. It’s still a tough market. The only way you can get top jobs beyond being a superstar law review person is to press the flesh. Return home, go to bar functions, and reach out to ND grads. Reach out to leaders in the legal environment. Develop personal relationships.”

I very much appreciate that Judge Buckley took time to speak with me and I am consistently amazed by Notre Dame’s outstanding alumni.

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