By Tasha LaSpina
This summer, I am interning at the Family Court division of DC Superior Court, and it has been a wonderful experience so far. My judge’s calendar consists primarily of child custody cases, although we also hear a good number of divorce, alimony, and child support matters. Often the cases are tied in with Domestic Violence or Abuse and Neglect cases.
Most days, I sit in the courtroom next to the court clerk, and take notes on the orders the judge is granting to the parties. Then I type up these orders , run them by the judge, and then get them docketed and filed, and sent out to the parties. I also sometimes assist in looking up case law or conducting legal research. This has helped me to learn more about DC’s standards for custody, as well as to gain a better understanding of some of the common problems pro se litigants, attorneys, and judges face in custody cases.
However, what I enjoy most about my position is that I have the opportunity to work one-on-one with both the parties and the judge. For example, during a custody hearing, I often talk separately to the parents involved in the custody dispute to find out what their concerns are about visitation arrangements, and then I prepare a draft visitation schedule which I then discuss with the judge so that she can issue a final order. I also speak with the parties that come into Central Intake with an Emergency Motion for Custody – after interviewing them to find out if there truly is an emergency situation such as parental kidnapping or abuse, I report my findings back to the judge and brief her on the case.
I’ve also been lucky enough to have the opportunity to sit in on many other trials that are going on in other Superior Court divisions, such as criminal trials, domestic violence hearings, and arraignments. Last week, I attended a “Guardian ad Litem” training session presented by the Children’s Law Center, where I learned what it takes to become a Guardian ad Litem (an attorney who acts as a neutral party representing “the best interests of the child” in a custody case).
I have really enjoyed learning more about the inner workings of a courtroom, and having the chance to see judges, lawyers, and Guardian ad Litems in action. I love how each day brings a new set of hearings and a new task for me to work on. I feel like I’m learning so much from my internship, and I’m gaining the kind of hands-on experience that one cannot get from a classroom. The experience has strengthened my interest in Family Law and in doing pro bono Guardian ad Litem work in the future.
I'm grateful for the EJF funding that has enabled me to spend my 1L summer working in such an interesting field, and gaining such valuable experience. I would not have been able to undertake this internship without EJF’s support.