Home > Internships, Law School > Benefits Of Judicial Internships

Benefits Of Judicial Internships

By Daniel E. Bonilla

Regardless of whether you’re interested in clerking for a judge one day, becoming a litigator, or a transactional attorney, you should consider interning or externing (an externship is basically an internship but for school credits) for a judge before you graduate law school.  One semester or summer with a judge will expose you to many different aspects of the law that law school simply can’t teach you.  It will be a tremendous learning experience that you’ll be able to build upon going forward.

So, how do you get a judicial internship? First, it’s just like applying for any other job.  You could talk to your school’s Career Services Office to get information on which judges are looking for interns or you can even ask for a list of all the judges in certain areas.  If not, you can simply use the Internet to find different judges and then mail your materials directly to them.

Be sure to talk to other students or the Career Services Office to find out what materials you should send to the judge that you’re interested in interning for.  Usually, the initial submission will include your resume and a cover letter.  If you get an interview, you should bring a writing sample and your transcripts just in case the judge or the law clerk needs it.  But, it might be different for the judge you have in mind so check with others first.

If you can, talk to other students about which judges they’ve interned for and what kind of work they had to complete.  You’ll want to find a judge who takes the time to talk with his/her interns and who lets the interns sit in on as many conferences, oral arguments, trials, etc. as possible. This will provide you with greater exposure to the practice of law.  More importantly, however, a judge who takes the time to talk with the interns will provide you with invaluable information and knowledge that you can’t find in your casebooks.

The work you get as an intern will vary depending on the judge you’re interning for.  Different judicial benches result in different work.  For example, if you intern for a Federal Magistrate Judge you might have to write a memo regarding a motion to join a third party.  On the other hand, if you’re interning for a Federal District Judge, you might have to work on a motion for summary judgment.  Thus, the judge’s bench will dictate what kind of work you get.

Typically, you’ll likely have to submit one major memo during an internship and one or two other smaller assignments dealing with more minor issues.  If the judge allows it, you might even get a chance to write an opinion for the court. If you are so fortunate, you might want to consider using it as a writing sample for future employers.

Day in and day out you’ll be working with law clerks and the judge.  The law clerk(s) will give you the assignments and will give you feedback on those assignments.  Make sure that you pay close attention to any feedback that you get.  The clerks are there to help you grow as an attorney and will give you advice/pointers on what you need to do to improve.  You should never waste an opportunity to better yourself.  In some cases, the feedback you get from the clerk will be nearly identical to the feedback you get from the judge (trust me, I’ve experienced it!).

You’ll also be seeing some of the best attorneys in your area as well as some of the worst attorneys in your area.  The exposure to different lawyering will likely have a profound impact on you.  Whether you plan on becoming a litigator or sitting behind a desk for the rest of your life, seeing good attorneys advocate for their clients will help you.

Advocacy is an art that needs to be practiced, polished, and refined.  It’s the magic that sets some attorneys apart from others and helps those attorneys win their cases.  Realistically speaking, you can’t just go up to different attorneys at different law firms, government departments, etc., and ask them if they could share all of their advocacy secrets with you.  But, you can at least get to see them practice their trade in court for free!  A judicial internship provides a great opportunity to see or hear all of this.

In addition, working for a judge exposes you to the kind of thought processes that go into deciding an issue one way or another.  You’re not going to be able to read the judge’s mind by the end of the semester/summer, but you’ll be able to start thinking about problems in a different light. The way you evaluate different sides and their respective arguments will change.  You’ll be able to cut out some of the unnecessary details in an argument and focus in on what the judge will likely consider to be important.  These are things that you don’t learn by simply going to your classes and reading your casebook.  Instead, these are invaluable bits of knowledge that you learn along the way as a practicing attorney-to-be.

Another reason to intern for a judge is that employers think highly of it.  It’s a way for an employer to see that you’ve been exposed to the courts, different proceedings, and writing assignments.  These are all different areas of the practice of law that attorneys should be familiar with.  Thus, having some experience before graduating will likely be considered beneficial by most, if not all, prospective employers.  Of course it also helps if the judge puts in a good word for you as a reference!

Last, if you’re fortunate enough to work for a judge who regularly interacts with interns, you’ll benefit from the knowledge and advice that the judge provides you.  Depending on the judge, he/she will give you tips on how to write better, how to identify legal issues, or even how to interact with other interns and attorneys.  Even better, if you’re really fortunate, you’ll get a detailed evaluation at the end of your internship where the judge will break down all of your work throughout the internship and will highlight areas that you need to improve.  Just make sure you take it all in!

At the end of the day, judicial internships or externships are great learning experiences for aspiring litigators or transactional attorneys. Working with judges and law clerks exposes you to different aspects of the law that can’t be taught in law school.  And, seeing attorneys actually arguing in court will help bring some arguments or cases you read to life.  You’ll be able to better understand what goes into deciding a legal issue and what kind of advocacy works best.

Ultimately, a judicial internship provides a student with a great opportunity to witness the practice of law come to life.

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  1. February 4, 2011 at 12:04 am

    Great post. See my post in response.

  2. rajmani@nvasso.com
    January 10, 2012 at 2:14 am

    Thanks for the valuable indepth information. I wish if I cud have done it for self. But I am too senior to get into this. But if my son get the law degree, I will ensure that he goes through this process .

  1. February 4, 2011 at 12:19 am

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