Tips for Law Students Interning for Judges This Summer

If you’re a law student who is interning for a judge this summer, here’s my advice (beyond the usual advice of working hard, being professional, etc.):

1) Be incredibly nice to the secretaries. You might think judges run judicial chambers. For the most part, though, they don’t: Judges’ secretaries run judicial chambers. Judges often keep secretaries for decades, and they rely heavily on them. If you’re working for a judge for a summer, the judge’s lead secretary (or only secretary, if the judge only has one) is going to be your friend or your enemy. Make sure the secretary is your friend. And don’t think for a second that the secretary works for you. You’re just an intern, and you work for the secretary and everyone else who will still be there when the summer is over.

2) Watch as many courtroom proceedings as you can. Interns sometimes think that their efforts are a valuable addition to the judge’s work product. They’re not. For the most part, it takes more time to teach interns what to do than interns will actually produce, and everything the interns do has to be checked and doublechecked by someone else anyway. Instead, judicial internships are largely opportunities for law students to get great experience in the law. You should therefore make sure that you get out of your office or cubicle and see as many courtroom proceedings as you can. Working in a courthouse is pretty cool. Often, there’s a lot of stuff going on. The best way to learn is to watch. So do as much watching as you can.

3) Be appreciative of the fact that you got the job. This point is related to #2. For the most part, judges agree to have interns because they think it would be good to give back to the legal profession by letting a current law student get a great experience ‘behind the scenes.’ They may get some work out of the intern — some more than others — but for the most part that’s only a side benefit. You should realize that and be appropriately appreciative of the opportunity you’ve been given. Don’t have the attitude that you’re working for free and so they better appreciate you. A judicial internship is a very cool opportunity to get to know a judge and to see how cases are really decided: You should show that you realize you’re really lucky to have the position.

4) Try to get to know the judge and the clerks, but without being annoying. One of the best parts about interning for a judge is getting to know the judge and the judge’s law clerk(s). For the most part, the judge and the judge’s clerk(s) will be very interesting people who can teach you a ton. The more you can hang out with them, the more likely they are to begin to share some great stories about how law really works. Those stories can teach some incredibly important lessons, and it’s an enriching part of the internship to hear them. So if you can, try to get to know people. But there’s an important catch: Whatever you do, don’t be annoying. Don’t assume that the judge and the judge’s clerk(s) will necessarily want to hang out with you, and don’t be pushy. Rather, let them take the lead in how much and how often you hang out, and try to take advantage of the opportunities that arise when they do.