Externships provide students with practical experience in multiple aspects of legal practice. Many students also report that their externships have been an invaluable resource upon entering the job market. Past externs have related their experiences with the program below.
Chris Wong, Class of 2008
For any aspiring lawyer who hopes to set foot in the courtroom one day, I consider an externship to be essential part of your legal education. By the time I hit my third year of studies, I couldn't wait to get some real life experience in, as the monotony of lectures and exams was seriously starting to get to me.
I had the pleasure of serving at the Bellevue City Attorney's Office for my final semester of law school and it remains one of my defining law school experiences (not to mention, one of the most fun!). The offices were small enough that I got to know the 4 criminal prosecutors, 4 civil attorneys, and the extremely sweet and helpful office staff all quite well.
As a Rule 9 extern, I always felt encouraged and supported and never marginalized. I was given lots of responsibility right off the bat, and was trying my own traffic infraction hearings by the third day. I will never forget coming into work the second week, seeing an unreal number of voicemails I had waiting from witnesses, defense attorneys, and co-workers and thinking, "So this is what it's like to be a real attorney..." In short, between trying court hearings, composing and responding to motions, and dealing with all sorts of little hiccups along the way on a daily basis, I became a really good multi-tasker really fast.
Not long afterward, I was given even more responsibilities (must've been doing something right!) and was given the misdemeanor arraignment calendar, "radar" speeding calendar, and was allowed to assist with some of the domestic violence cases. I guess that's one good thing about criminal law - there is never a shortage of people committing crimes!
I think the most valuable thing I took away from my time in Bellevue was not necessarily the trial experience, but moreso the understanding of the system itself and the culture of trial attorneys. While it's only natural to want to take any and every case that crosses your desk to trial at first, it's a real light bulb moment when you realize that there are many ways to achieve justice, rather than simply fighting every case to the death. I was also exposed to a huge cross section of the defense attorney population, with varying experiences. Some were the model of professionalism and a pleasure to deal with. Others...well, much like life, we can't all be perfect.
I'd highly recommend applying to Bellevue for a semester if you're at all interested in litigation one day. Between the co-workers, the city, and the caseload, you're missing out if you pass this one up. Oh, make sure to tell them that Chris Wong sent you, and say "Hi" to them for me.
If you have any questions that I can help answer, please do feel free to ask. I can be reached at email@example.com.
Best of Luck!
Matthew Covello, Class of 2006
Taking an externship should be a required part of law school. After two years of studying case law and arguing mock motions and appeals, I spent a summer making decisions that directly affected the lives of other people. I averaged over twelve hours per week actually “on the record” in a courtroom and had an opportunity to view both the criminal justice system and the day to day lives of prosecutors from a front row seat.
One interesting aspect of working at the Kent City Attorney’s office is that, although you have one supervisor on your rule 9 card, actually four different prosecutors are available for guidance and assistance. The actual work was varied for a criminal practice. I represented the city in several traffic infraction calendars as well as researched issues involving warrantless searches, defendants’ admissions, and DUI-related issues. After observing the prosecutors for several days, I was given my own calendar where I would represent the City of Kent in various criminal proceedings. Eventually I was able to handle these calendars by myself without supervision.
An awesome part of working in Kent was that I actually felt like an attorney. The staff at City Hall and at the Court treated me like I was one of the prosecutors. This treatment allowed me to focus on my work instead of on how I looked doing it.
Municipal prosecution is a very busy and complex area of law. The case load in south King County is exceptional and Kent is no exception. Because of this, it was often difficult to feel fully prepared for an anticipated court appearance. However, this experience gave me the confidence and ability to think on my feet and to adequately advocate in any situation.
I spent most of my time in a courtroom; however, at the office, there was always at least one attorney available to answer any questions I had. I did not take Criminal Procedure before taking this externship, which put me at a severe disadvantage. Yet the prosecutors were open to talking with me about basic criminal rules, motions, and law. Each attorney had a different expectation level for my performance. At times this hurt my self-esteem a little, but it taught me to cope with a diverse office environment. And when I did successfully complete an assignment or an argument, my confidence grew exponentially because I was actually functioning as a lawyer.
I have recommended this externship to several of my friends both for the reasons stated above and because I feel like a different law student now than I did before taking the externship. For me, working in Kent transformed me from a naïve second-year law student to a confident soon-to-be lawyer.
Justin Farmer, Class of 2009
An externship with the Superior Court gave me my first taste of what it is like to be a "real" attorney - and I LOVED it. It doesn't matter if you are interested in criminal prosecution or defense, private civil practice, or in-house counsel. An externship with a Judge is an amazing experience that you cannot pass by.
I have heard that the best advocates, defense or prosecution, are those who can argue both sides - and win. I believe that the very best advocates are those who can not only argue both sides, but can decide a case fairly and impartially after listening to hours of oral argument. As a Judge you are an advocate of justice.
While externing for the Honorable Judge James Cayce at the Regional Justice Center, I had an opportunity to see first-hand what goes on in the Judge's chambers. I interacted daily with Court staff and other Judges. Even more, it was my task, and privilege, to read motion briefs as they came in, analyze and scrutinize each side's arguments, and then prepare memoranda as to the merits of each argument. For each memorandum, I was told to think like a judge and act as if I were ruling on the case.
Not only did I get to discuss the law and rulings with Judge Cayce, but I also got the chance to observe trial from the bench. There is nothing like watching seasoned trial attorneys in action. For anyone who aspires to be a trial attorney, an externship with Judge Cayce should be high on your list. The feeling of familiarity and comfort you get from being in the courtroom and in chambers for a semester, at this stage of your career, cannot be beat.
Going into the externship I was not sure where I wanted to go with my career. However, now it is safe to say that a position within the Judicial Branch is in my future. I highly recommend an externship with Judge Cayce or any other Judge at the Regional Justice Center. The experience is amazing and the tools you will gain will prepare you for your future in the law, no matter where your path takes you.
If you want courtroom experience and a great summer, then work for MoA (the Criminal Division of the Municipality of Anchorage). In addition to the courtroom experience, the major perks of working for MoA include a supportive and friendly work environment, thoughtful and attentive supervisors, and a really cool town in which to live.
Courtroom experience: I prosecuted two criminal trials, wrote and argued two motions in limine, and regularly represented MoA at change of plea calendars. After training, my supervisors gave me total independence to do my job. For the trials, I was responsible for the planning, preparation, and execution of everything, from soup to nuts: pretrial motions, voir dire, opening, direct, cross, exhibits, closing, judgment, and sentence. It was an amazing experience.
Support: My supervisor spent significant periods of time training me one-on-one, answering my questions, and accompanying me to court. My co-workers took me out for meals and appetizers on a number of occasions. The office took all of the interns on a two day camping trip, featuring a float trip down the Kenai River (live!). During the last week of the internship, UAA needed my dorm room back, so my supervisor let me sleep in her guest room. Everyone in that office just loves the interns, and they appreciated and treated us way better than we expected or deserved.
Town: Anchorage is a great place to live, especially in the summer. The outdoor activities are unrivaled: hiking, fishing, boating, climbing, etc. Even in town, there are amazing bike paths along the creeks. The nightlife is lively (check out Chilkoot Charlie's). The people are very friendly.
Two cents: As a person who has worked in three different law firms, two government agencies, and who loves oral advocacy, I can't honestly imagine a better externship. It was truly a privilege and I would go back and do it again in a heartbeat.
Rachel Winship, Class of 2006
The Department of Assigned Counsel in Tacoma will forever be etched in my mind as the agency that first exposed me to the practical and emotional aspects of criminal law.
While working at the felony division at DAC, I researched various legal issues, discussed these issues with attorneys, wrote the relevant briefs, and watched numerous court hearings and trials. During this time, I learned a great deal about Washington criminal law and the criminal court system.
In addition to important legal experience, I gained valuable experience communicating with clients. Through my contact with DAC clients, I learned the importance of being able to communicate without using complex legal terms. Further, I learned the difficulties of dealing with the indigent population. Specifically, many of DAC’s clients had much more pressing concerns than their pending cases. These are things that you just do not learn sitting in a law school classroom.
Besides my felony work, which involved mostly research and writing, I also had the opportunity to appear in Fife Municipal Court, doing pre-trial hearings. This experience gave me much-needed court exposure. Although I was initially very nervous and unsure of myself, repeated exposure made me much more confident.
I would recommend working at the Department of Assigned Counsel to anyone who is interested in working on either side of criminal law. My experience was extremely positive; the attorneys were incredibly accommodating, and the cases involved vast and varying issues. I personally believe any law student would be lucky to be an extern at the Department of Assigned Counsel.
Sheri Pewitt, Class of 2008
If gaining solid litigation skills, in-court experience and an inside perspective of the criminal justice system are top priorities for you, Snohomish County Public Defender Association should be at the top of your list of potential externship sites.
As a law student, I've externed or interned for the judiciary, the defense and the prosecution so my Snohomish County Public Defender Association externship review is written from an objective perspective rather than a pro-defense or pro-prosecution perspective.
Disclaimers aside, I LOVED every minute of my externship with the Snohomish County Public Defender Association. I was exposed to in-court strategies and litigation styles that I couldn't possibly get in a classroom setting. I experienced many different aspects of being a public defender including: 1) working the jail calendar; 2) working a variety of calendars at South District Court; 3) conducting in custody and out of custody defendant interviews; 4) arguing a 3.6 motion; 5) researching and writing briefs and; 6) working with an investigator to prepare for my own trial. In a nutshell, I was at South District court a lot, either representing clients or explaining plea deals to defendants. If you are eager for courtroom experience, this externship is for you. I was able to jump right in from day one!
Everyone at the public defender's office has an open door policy and always made time to answer my questions. My boss, Laura Martin, provided useful feedback and was always willing to provide direction when asked. My other "unofficial" boss, Jason Schwarz, provided great legal insights and a steady diet of a daily humor. Furthermore, the defending and prosecuting attorneys are very collegial in South District court. The two "sides" have a great working relationship and even the prosecutors gave me tips on strategies they have learned over time.
Another huge benefit of being a rule 9 extern with Snohomish County Public Defender Association is that the felony and misdemeanor attorneys are located in the same building. Whenever a felony attorney had a big trial or an interesting 3.6 motion, externs were encouraged to walk over to Superior Court to observe. I managed to watch closing arguments on two murder trials on top of everything else I was able to do.
If you want valuable in-court experience, externing with Snohomish County Public Defender Association offers a rare opportunity to learn in-court strategies that can't be taught in a classroom. The commute from Seattle is shorter than the commute to Kent, so don't let the Everett location dissuade you. The attorneys are talented, accomplished, witty and great to work with. And, if you like Sushi, you'll fit right in. To get the most out of the externship, try to schedule all of your classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays so you are available to work Monday, Wednesday and Friday. If you'd like more information, send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Abbie Hurd, Class of 2005
My externship at the United States Attorney’s Office (USAO) was, without a doubt, the best experience I had during law school.
The externship involved a lot of research, writing and analytical work but each assignment was so intriguing I actually wanted to do the work. The issues I researched ranged from bank robberies, to kidnappings, to international homicides, to drug smuggling from Canada into the U.S., to U.S. corporations bribing foreign officials for business contracts.
I also had the opportunity to write a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Brief. This was a very daunting task, but equally satisfying to complete. Not to mention, I can now tell prospective employers that I have written a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Brief!
As far as my time in court, I conducted three sentencing hearings. These were also daunting experiences, but it was thrilling to argue before a federal court judge, representing the United States.
My supervisor (Assistant U.S. Attorney Bill Redkey) was awesome. He introduced me to many of the federal court judges, invited me to participate in interrogations of defendants and witnesses, and gave me time to sit-in on some high-profile federal trials. He also checked in with me on a regular basis to make sure I was not too overwhelmed.
Every Assistant U.S. Attorney that I worked with was supportive of me and of each other. It was really refreshing to be in an environment of intelligent, self-assured, and kind attorneys who seemed genuinely excited about their careers.
Most importantly, this externship was instrumental in helping me decide that I want to be a prosecutor. I learned that prosecutors have the exceptional opportunity to weigh the defendant’s motivations, criminal history, and remorse, against the impact of his/her crime on society and then, from that balancing test, to ask the court for that which is fair.
If you are like me at all, at some point during law school you start to question why you have paid all this money to go into such a boring profession. My externship at the U.S. Attorney’s Office taught me that there is an exciting and rewarding alternative to working at "a big firm." For this knowledge, I am forever grateful.