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More on Judicial Internships

By Christopher Dize

Yesterday, Danny posted on the benefits of interning for a judge.  I have also had very good experiences with interning, and I want to highlight a couple of things in addition to what he said.

First, if you do any writing for the judge or the law clerks and you decide that you want to use it as a writing sample later on, make sure you ask the judge for permission before you use your work product as a writing sample.

Of course, you probably won’t have to ask the judge personally, unless you’re fortunate enough to be working directly for him or her, but you should at least run it by a law clerk.  If there is no problem with you using the work product (and rarely there is, because they’re not likely to give the really hot stuff to an intern anyway), you will probably have to redact names and dates and any other personal information of the parties, such as social security numbers.

The reason for making sure you have permission is not that you might screw up and accidentally show a memo to a prospective employer who happened to be representing one of the parties mentioned in the memo . . . or even worse, what you wrote in the memo was adverse to the prospective employer’s position in the litigation.  How ridiculous would that be!  Yeah, probably too crazy to happen . . . but you never know.

The point is that you are obligated to keep certain information confidential when you work for a judge.  And, moreover, you have the judge’s confidence by being invited into her chambers.

Never underestimate the value of knowing and being on familiar terms with a judge.  In fact, that should be your main goal while interning:  impress the judge.  Get to know her and make a favorable impression.  Making this kind of a connection will pay off big in the long run.

Second, if you intern with a judge you will mostly work in chambers.  But remember: when you’re outside chambers, be discrete in your actions and communications.

This seems simple, but indiscretion is a nefarious thing.  Interns often have the opportunity to leave the chambers and walk to other courtrooms to observe trials, voir dire, hearings and the like.  If you do, you may want to take court papers with you to read, which is not uncommon.  (And if you’ve ever sat listening to potential juror #45 answer which newspaper he reads and what’s his favorite TV show, then you know why.)

If you take papers out of chambers, you should always carry them in a folder or other discreet manner.  Never set them down court papers and leave them anywhere.

Again, this seems common sense, but it’s easy to do things wrong when you’re not in the habit of doing them right.  And the last thing a budding law student needs is an angry law clerk wanting to know what happened to the Smith brief on punitive damages or Rule 11 sanctions or some other sensitive topic.

You also have to be discrete in who you talk to and about what and when.  I’ll unpack that with an example.

During the summer between my first and second year, I did an externship for a federal magistrate judge.  She was wonderful to work for, as were her two law clerks, who handled most of the externs’ work and assignments.

When I started the position, however, I was surprised to find that there were about eight other students who were also interning with the same judge that summer.  (She goes out of her way to open up her chambers to law students and allow them to get the kind of experience that Danny described in his post.)

Furthermore, there were many other interns working for other judges in the courthouse.  All in all, throughout the week, there were probably upwards of 50 interns in the building that summer.  And we all saw one another frequently, and got to know one another, and discussed whatever trials were going on in the building.

The point is that this is not an uncommon situation, and you have to be careful not to disclose confidential information inadvertently.  The judge’s chambers is not the classroom at law school.  As long as you recognize and abide by the distinction, you should have no problem.

Closing Thoughts

If you’re serious about getting an internship, you should make sure that you cast a big net.  Don’t overlook state court opportunities.  But you should also take advantage of the connections that you may have already made.  One good connection can be worth a hundred résumés stuffed in envelopes.

One of the biggest mistakes that I’ve noticed is that a student will say he wants to do a clerkship in a certain area of law.  But there are only two judges doing that type of law in the entire tri-state area.  Nonetheless, the student thinks that because he specifies his interest in the cover letter, the judge must give him an internship.

Don’t set yourself up for this.  Save the particularized interests for your third year class selections.  Getting an internship is about getting experience behind the scenes of the profession, not a particular corner of the profession.  As Danny pointed out in his post, this is a great opportunity to see what really goes on.  Don’t cut yourself short by aiming too narrowly.

Apply early and good luck!

Christopher Dize graduated summa cum laude from Salisbury University.  He will receive his J.D. from Seton Hall University School of Law in 2011.  After graduation, Chris will clerk for a judge of the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division.  He has interned for judges of the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey.  Chris currently works for a litigation firm in New Jersey.

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