Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Student Post: U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Washington, DC

By Tasha LaSpina

This past summer, I interned for a magistrate judge at the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, and it was a great learning experience. My judge’s calendar at first consisted of only civil cases, but then she switched to a criminal docket later in the summer. The civil cases were usually employment discrimination claims that involved requests for attorney fees. The criminal cases tended to be sentencing hearings.

Most of my time over the summer was spent doing legal research and writing, which I then submitted to the judge in the form of internal memos or “Report and Recommendation” documents. After the judge had a chance to review my documents, we would discuss my findings and talk about the strongest and weakest aspects of particular arguments. What I enjoyed most about my internship was when, just before a hearing, the judge would call me into her chambers and ask me to imagine what I thought each side would say in response to a particular question from her. I really enjoyed the opportunity to talk through these scenarios with the judge, because these exercises helped me to learn to think on my feet and to improve my oral argument skills. I also liked having the opportunity to then attend the court proceeding for each case, to see if the parties did in fact raise the arguments that I had anticipated that they would give in response to the judge’s questions.

I also really enjoyed learning more about the inner workings of a federal courthouse, and having the chance to see judges, lawyers, marshals, and law clerks in action. The internship allowed me to get a great behind-the-scenes look at how federal cases are handled, and enabled me to gain the kind of hands-on experience that one cannot get from a classroom. In particular, because I had the opportunity to attend daily court proceedings, I was able to see a lot of different lawyering styles during the course of the summer, from government attorneys, defense lawyers, lawyers working on cases pro bono, and even a few pro se clients. It was great to observe the different communication styles, writing styles, and argument styles in action, and by the end of the summer I felt that I had picked up a few good tips about how to present myself in court. These tips that I picked up from the counsel I saw over the summer have already be an asset to me in my current clinical casework, and I know they will continue to help me in my future career as a prosecutor.

A judicial internship is a great learning experience for anyone considering a career in litigation or for any student who is thinking of clerking after graduation, and the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia was an especially exciting courthouse in which to intern, because of the many high-profile cases that are heard there each day. I'm grateful for the EJF funding that enabled me to spend my 2L summer pursuing this type of internship. I would not have been able to undertake this internship without EJF’s support.

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