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Things We Learned About Good Lawyering During Our Summer Judicial Externships

Thirty SIU law students, including both rising 2Ls and rising 3Ls, served as judicial externs in courthouses located throughout five states this summer. Through these externships, students had the opportunity to learn about the legal system at the elbow of a state or federal judge
and to make valuable professional connections in communities where they might like to practice after graduation. The following excerpts from students’ journals highlight just a few of the lessons they learned about how to be effective lawyers.

“As law students, we read cases to discover the rule of law. We often do not give thought to the people involved in the case and how the rule of law had a major effect on their lives. Every day the court system is dealing with hundreds of cases that affect hundreds of peoples’ lives.”
                                ~ Amy Oxley, Seventh Judicial District, Macoupin County, IL

“The judge emphasized the importance of being prepared when coming to court. He said that nothing irritates him more than a lawyer who wastes his time by not being prepared.” ~ J.T. Skinner, Webster/Union/Crittendon County, KY

“[Y]ou always need to befriend the administrative staff. This applies to your office, as well as any office or courthouse that you will have to deal with. The administrative people can make your life very easy or really difficult, depending on how they feel about you.”
                                           ~ Lorelei Frost,Illinois Appellate Court, Third District

"One particularly valuable observation I made is that certain attorneys seem to get much better deals than others from the prosecutor. . . . If a prosecutor knows a particular attorney is experienced, a skilled litigator, and always well prepared, the fear of losing will motivate that prosecutor to offer a much better deal."
                                         
~ J.C. Weyand, Tenth Judicial Circuit, Hannibal, MO

“The good attorneys fought the good fight even when they were losing. They made every objection, got everything on the record, and acted as if their case would prevail. As the judge taught me – even if it is just a show for your client – you want to convince everyone watching that you did everything that could be done so as not to be likely to be charged with malpractice or ineffective counsel.”                                            ~ P. David Stevens, St. Louis County Court

“I learned that you have to be careful what questions you ask and when because you never know what will come out of the mouths of witnesses.”
                                                                     ~ Bobi James, 9th Judicial Circuit, IL

“I saw the importance of properly phrasing questions during examination. Each time the plaintiff’s attorney would begin to lead the witness, the defendant’s attorney would object. After the fifth sustained objection in five minutes, it became clear that the jury and almost everyone else in the courtroom became exasperated. These objections detracted from the flow of the case and made the plaintiff’s attorney seem less than competent.”
                                                           ~ Alex Tietz, Kane County, IL, Circuit Court

“Obviously, when the plaintiff’s attorney failed to inform the other side that his client had passed away, and tried to settle the case on top of it all, he was not acting ethically. . . . [My judge] made it clear to me that a competent lawyer keeps in touch with his or her client throughout the representation, even if there really is not anything going on in the case.”
                                             ~ Lucas Liefer, U.S. District Court, East St. Louis, IL

“The most memorable observations were all of the times I was able to see the judge, prosecution and defense work together . . . to achieve a proper outcome and judicial efficiency . . . . This shows how important being an effective, efficient, and ethical attorney is because that will affect your close relations with attorneys and judges you will be working with in the future.”
                                ~ Jessica Armijo, Second Judicial Circuit, Mount Vernon, IL

“What I took away from this [court observation] is that when the judge is not agreeing with you and is asking difficult questions, it is not helpful to repeatedly ask the judge if he read your brief and make statements such as, ‘Well, if you would read my brief I think that is addressed in there.’ Sometimes the judge just wants to talk through your arguments with you or hear you repeat them in oral argument and it is important to ‘play along.’”
                             ~ Michael Bantz, Sixth Judicial Circuit, Champaign County, IL

“I learned to make the judge’s (or jury’s) job as easy as possible; do as much work as possible before trial to paint a picture for the judge rather than making the judge work to understand the point I am trying to make.”
                                  ~ Natalie Lorenz, U.S. District Court, Cape Girardeau, MO