Eighteen law students completed externships through the law school’s Judicial Extern Clinic this summer, getting a behind-the-scenes look at what happens in a variety of courts in different parts of the country.
“This was a wonderful experience and I would recommend it to any student,” said second year law student Allison Pitzer, who worked with Circuit Judge Barbara Crowder in Edwardsville, Illinois. “I learned an enormous amount of law and procedure and about the realities of practicing law. I also had the unique opportunity of seeing the proceedings through the eyes of a judge.”
Third year law student Lacy Cole, who externed with Chief U.S. District Judge David Herndon in East St. Louis, Illinois, concurred: “This experience has enriched me like no other in law school. I wish I had it to do all over again.”
Five students worked with federal judges in Chicago, St. Louis, and southern Illinois, including three district judges, two magistrate judges, and one chief bankruptcy judge. Twelve students worked with state judges, including an Illinois supreme court justice, three appellate court judges in Illinois and Kentucky, and seven trial court and family court judges in Illinois, Kentucky, and South Carolina. One student divided his time between a state appellate court judge and a federal magistrate judge.
Pitzer said she had the opportunity to observe a broad spectrum of court proceedings, including misdemeanor/felony, DUI, domestic violence, child support, arbitration, landlord-tenant, small claims, traffic, weddings and “all the civil claims I worked on – it was great exposure!”
Externs said the experience helped them in a number of ways, from improving their research and writing skills to helping them meet attorneys in the geographic areas where the externs intend to practice after law school.
“I learned what annoys judges, what happens when you write poorly, how to address people in court, federal court practices – so much I can’t even name,” said second year student Danielle Patterson, who worked with U.S. Magistrate Judge David Bernthal in Urbana, Illinois.
“I was able to see what really persuades an appellate court justice,” said second year student Ross Sorenson, who worked with both Illinois Appellate Court Justice Stephen Spomer and U.S. Magistrate Judge Philip Frazier. As a result of his experience, Sorenson said he is “a more confident researcher and writer and am more confident in the courtroom. All of the abstract concepts of civil procedure make a lot more sense after seeing the anatomy of a lawsuit in real life.”
Students may enroll in the Judicial Extern Clinic any time after they have completed their first year of law school. Although the clinic has been offered only during the summer, a proposal is pending to offer the clinic in the fall and spring semesters as well.
“I can’t imagine a more educational or fulfilling way to spend the summer after the first year of law school than participating in the Judicial Externship program,” said second year law student Justin Volker, who worked with Circuit Court Judge Marc Rosen in Catlettsburg, Kentucky. “On top of everything I learned, the program allowed me to observe a wide range of practice areas, which helped me greatly narrow my career interests.”
Third year law student Naila Robinson agreed. “I had the opportunity to see many different types of law, which was very important to me because I am unsure of what area I would like to pursue in practice,” said Robinson, who clerked for several judges at the Jackson County Courthouse in Murphysboro, Illinois.
Professor Alice Noble-Allgire, who assumed responsibility for the Judicial Extern Clinic this year upon the retirement of Legal Clinic Director Mary Rudasill, said it was a pleasure to hear from students about how much they had learned from their judges.
“Law professors expose students to a lot of things in the classroom, but there are some things that law students can’t really appreciate until they see it unfold in real life,” said Noble-Allgire. “For example, I often tell students about the importance of paying attention to detail, to things like spelling, grammar, and citation form. Extern clinic students can see for themselves what happens when an attorney fails to do so. Several students commented this summer about how attorneys lost credibility with a judge because of sloppy work.”
Noble-Allgire said that the Judicial Extern Clinic also offers an opportunity to showcase the law school’s talented students.
“More than one judge told me that his or her extern was the best the judge had ever had,” said Noble-Allgire. “In fact, the judges at one courthouse were so pleased with an extern’s work this summer that they hired her as a part-time employee during her last year of law school. And I expect that other externs will end up with paid judicial clerkships after they graduate. Having our students perform well in these externships does a lot to promote a positive image of the law school.”
The law school has more than 70 approved judicial extern sites in various geographic locations. Noble-Allgire said that students can also seek approval for sites that are not currently on the list.
“The possibilities are almost limitless,” said Noble-Allgire. “Externships can be approved wherever there is a state or federal court. All we require is a judge who is willing to accept an extern and provide an appropriate level of work experience, supervision,
and opportunities to observe court proceedings.”
She said some students return to their home town for a summer externship while other students seize the opportunity to explore other parts of the country where they think they might like to practice after graduation. In either situation, students gain a competitive advantage by getting to know judges, lawyers, and courthouse personnel, as well as learning the customs of local law practice.