There are many opportunities available for a 1L during his/her first summer in law school. One of the most popular is a judicial internship. Judicial internships are (usually) unpaid positions in the chambers of a state or federal judge.
What Judicial Interns Do
Judicial interns work closely with the judge’s law clerks and sometimes with the judge as well. They typically perform a range of duties, including researching legal issues, writing memoranda, and preparing and revising orders. In addition, interns often have the opportunity to attend trials or arguments, allowing them to see litigation in action and giving them perspective on how judicial decisions are made.
Keep in mind that your experience will vary depending on the particular judge. Many provide substantive assignments that will enable you to research a particular issues extensively and prepare a memorandum with your findings, while others focus more on observation and encourage their interns to observe as many hearings as possible. If improving your writing skills is a priority for you this summer, make sure you ask questions in the interview process to get a clear sense of the type of experience you will receive.
Why a Judicial Internship?
One of the key lessons young attorneys learn once they begin the practice of law is knowing who his/her audience is. By working under a judge, an intern gains valuable insights into how judges approach motions and arguments, as well as how they render their decisions. In addition to this, the intern will likely be exposed to a wide array of attorneys appearing before the court. This allows for an intern to experience many different practice styles and techniques. These experiences can be invaluable to any law student, but are particularly useful to the litigation minded student.
An additional benefit of the judicial internship comes as a student will be working closely with an incredibly experienced legal professional. In most internships, this means spending a great deal of time researching, writing, editing and revising legal writing work. Few skills are more valuable or marketable to an attorney than his/her legal writing ability. A summer with a judge offers the opportunity for a student to hone his/her craft under the guidance of a seasoned legal professional, as most judges and/or their clerks provide substantial feedback on written assignments.
For those students who are considering pursuing a post-graduate judicial clerkship a judicial internship can be extremely beneficial. A judicial internship can provide the potential candidate with a taste of what being a judicial clerk is like. In addition, an intern can establish his/her abilities to a member of the bench who can potentially speak on his/her behalf once it comes time to seek a clerkship. Keep in mind, however, that some judges have a strict policy against hiring former interns as clerks.
Finally, working as a judicial intern provides a student with the opportunity to develop a mentorship relationship with an influential and well-connected legal professional. Judges, by and large, bring a wealth of experience to the bench, which they are normally very willing to use to assist interns who prove themselves capable. The internship can serve as an introduction to a local legal market by providing a shared set of conversation points and experiences with local attorneys for an intern who establishes his/her abilities in chambers.
How to Pursue a Judicial Internship
Once you decide you are interested in pursuing a judicial internship, the question turns to how exactly do you get one. As with everything in the law, the answer to that question depends on the position. One of your primary goals should be to find a position in the market in which you eventually want to practice. Many of the benefits listed above primarily affect the local and regional market, and may not translate as well to other areas. While it isn’t possible to envision every scenario through which a student might obtain a judicial internship, here are some of the most common paths:
Many judicial chambers reach out to law schools seeking judicial interns. When the CDO receives a request like this, we always post the position to Symplicity. The Symplicity posting will include the judge’s name, location, and how to apply. If it is provided to us, the posting will also include what type of cases the court in question normally deals with. It should be noted, however, that the vast majority of judges do not actively seek out applicants for their internships.
Once you have targeted a particular market, after checking Symplicity, you should check the local county/court website to see if any judges have posted opportunities or if there is a court-wide process for seeking interns. For example, the Superior Court of Santa Clara County in California created this posting laying out the court’s process for hiring interns. Some federal courts also do this, as with this posting from the Southern District of Indiana. A quick search of the relevant site is a low opportunity-cost move that can yield immediate answers in your search.
This is by far the most common method. Should neither Symplicity nor the court’s website yield any information, simply contact chambers to inquire whether or not the judge is interested in hiring a judicial intern. To be clear right off the bat, this does not mean to call the judge. This means to contact the judge’s judicial assistant or clerk. The phone number or chambers email address provided on a court’s webpage is normally that of the administrative assistant or bailiff. This person will likely know whether or not the judge will be hiring an intern, and if he/she does not will know how to find the answer relatively quickly. If the judge is hiring make sure to ask what materials they judge would candidates to include in their application and to whom they should send it.
Many students are quite nervous about calling a judge’s chambers, and that hesitance is understandable. That said, it’s imperative that students begin to start thinking of themselves as young legal professionals, and the fact of the matter is that legal professionals (at least those in the litigation world) call chambers on a fairly routine basis. To ease anxiety, the following is a very sparse script to get started with the call: “Hello, my name is _________, and I’m a 1L at Notre Dame Law School. I’m calling to find out whether Judge ___________ will be hiring any summer interns this year and how I would go about applying.”
A Few Points on Applying
Once you determine that the judge is, in fact, hiring interns the next step is to apply. While every judge is different, there are a few common points that will apply to virtually every situation:
- Never send the Judge more than he/she asked for. This is easily one of the most common mistakes a student can make. In the interests of providing more information that supports his/her candidacy students occasionally blow by what the judge has actually asked for, which is a mistake. When a judge asks for a cover letter, unofficial transcript and resume, that is what he/she expects to see. If you send a writing sample, you run a real risk of alienating the judge as he/she may have a perception that you can’t follow directions.
- This is an internship, not a clerkship. Another common, and easily correctable mistake is the verbiage of internship v. clerkship. Clerkships are full-time, post-grad positions while internships are temporary positions normally performed while in school. Using the proper vocabulary is an important step in avoiding confusion and demonstrating your potential as a candidate.
- Be willing to apply to multiple judges in a court system. Many students are apprehensive about applying to many judges within the same court system, but there is no problem with doing so. Judges understand that law students need to hustle to find a job and they, rightly, view their internships as a great opportunity that generates a lot of interest. They know that they cannot hire every qualified applicant, so it stands to reason that students will apply elsewhere. The bottom line is that until you accept an offer you can and should apply to other opportunities.
- Your word is always your bond, but that goes double for dealing with judges. Judges operate in an environment in which attorneys are not only expected, but are required, to address the court with candor and respect. Once you accept a position with a judge YOU ABSOLUTELY CANNOT RENEG ON THAT ACCEPTANCE. Very few things are as bad for your career as breaking your word to a court. Think about your decision long and hard before you accept the position.
As with all career related questions, we here at the CDO are ready and willing to answer any questions you may have. The above is far from an exhaustive detailing of the benefits, drawbacks and strategies for earning a judicial internship. Feel free to email myself or any of the other members of the CDO if you wish to pursue a judicial internship.