A Day in the Life of a U.S. Judicial Extern: Four STL Students Share their Experiences
During Fall 2017, three STL students and one graduate undertook prestigious judicial externships in the United States. LI Mengshi (class of 2017), LI Yidan and ZHENG Xinjia (class of 2018), and ZHANG Xi (class of 2019) share their experiences.
LI Mengshi: Clerk for Chief Justice Ralph Gants, Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (Boston, Massachusetts)
During my internship at the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC), I performed tasks typically assigned to legal interns from U.S. law schools. My daily assignments included legal research and writing on cases pending oral argument, as well as analyses of cases seeking direct appellate review. Guided by the Chief Justice and his clerks, I drafted an opinion regarding a defendant who was seeking further appellate review of his murder conviction.
To help current and future STL students get a better picture of the daily life at the SJC, I lay out a high-level itinerary below:
|Sep 5-Nov 16||Drafted 15 Direct Appellate Review Summaries.|
|Sep 5-22||To explore the possibility of a dissent, researched on whether certain type of Sexual Offender Registration Board (SORB) classification would infringe upon liberty interests that is a per se miscarriage of justice warranting retrial.|
|Sep 28-29||To prepare the court before oral arguments, researched on the appropriateness of certain probate conditions imposed on individuals with drug addictions, and what might be the legitimate court-initiated measures (detention or involuntary inpatient treatment).|
|Oct 10-17||Researched on the applicability of collateral estoppel in a parallel civil action when the underlying criminal appeal is pending; and then researched where the doctrine of abatement ab initio applied to the underlying criminal appeal (meaning once a defendant is dead, the criminal case is invalid from the beginning), whether and how would collateral estoppel apply.|
|Oct 23-Nov 9||Helped to draft a speech on the intersection between behavioral health and criminal justice reform based on Judge Minehan’s draft; discussed the topic with Judge Coffey and forensic scientist Stephanie; coordinated with organizers of the Event; attended the Event.|
|Nov 13-16||Drafted a Single Justice Opinion on gatekeeper petition.|
|Oct 30-31||Attended the Justice for All 2017 Working Group Summit.|
|Sep 5-Nov 10||Oral arguments:
|Sep 5-Sep 19||Attended the Clerk/Intern Orientation Program of the 2017-2018 Court Year spanning standards of appellate review, finality of judgments, and preparing an opinion ready for the editing process.|
|Sep 5-Nov 16||Attended lectures and social law events, featuring:
In addition to formal trainings and works at the SJC, I also enjoyed many fun events. Ranking first are meals with the Chief Justice and the Chief’s Cohort, led by our beloved Carina. To this day, I always think of moments like strolling from Mike’s Pastry to the Bill Russell statute with the Chief after dining at the North End, warm and relaxing after-work café breaks with Carina, and a hilarious bus ride to New York with Angelica (another intern for the Chief). I highly recommend any STL student loving the law to apply for such a court internship. It will be tremendously rewarding!
LI Yidan: Clerk for Chief Judge Patti Saris, United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts (Boston, Massachusetts)
The responsibilities of interns include assisting and observing court proceedings, conducting research/writing bench memo/drafting order regarding any assigned case, proofreading and cite-checking as requested by the law clerks. As is true in any professional law office, the work done by interns is the foundation. Judicial interns need to clearly identify the legal issues, lay out the legal standards in the particular jurisdiction, and thoroughly engage with the evidence on the docket. The key is to be as patient and thorough as one can. When I was working, I did as much research as I could and wrote as succinctly as I could.
In addition, communication was another import aspect of this job. The assignments would come from law clerks or the Chief Judge herself. The first step was to know what I was expected to do with each assignment. Sometimes they would tell me their initial assessment and ask me to confirm it. Sometimes they would tell me to “do whatever is necessary” with the case, which means I need to exercise my best judgment to advise the Judge on what she needs to do with regard to either a motion or a hearing. Once I developed my own understanding of the assignment, I would quickly touch base with the law clerks to exchange ideas. A quick talk like this would reduce the risks of misunderstanding and increase efficiency.
This job also required me to work under pressure. Anything can happen in court, including emergency cases or motions that require quick reactions. It makes a difference under these stressful circumstances if you are able to spot issues with surgical precision and efficiently research and analyse the issues. I always reminded myself to stay level-headed and to think logically. I would highly recommend this internship to STL students who not only want to experience authentic American legal practice, but also have the drive to meet new challenges on a constant basis.
ZHENG Xinjia: Clerk for Chief Judge Geoffrey Crawford, United States District Court for the District of Vermont (Rutland, Vermont)
My daily responsibilities included attending court hearings, reviewing submissions from counsel, conducting legal research, drafting legal memos, and checking citations for final judgments. I worked on cases involving the defense of entrapment by estoppel and negation of intent, the validity of arbitration agreements, disputes over jurisdiction, and claims under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (“RICO”), the Fair Debt Collection Practice Act (“FDCPA”), criminal law, contract law and the U.S. Constitution.
During my internship, I went to the Second Circuit in New York where Judge Crawford was invited to serve as a guest judge. In the Second Circuit, I observed and appreciated the very high level performance of elite litigators. I also got chances to meet with state court judges, state prosecutors, lawyers, law school professors and law students in Vermont. We also were honorably invited to visit the Vermont Bar Association and participate in their Annual Meetings.
This internship broadened my horizons. It upgraded my understanding of the U.S. judicial system and served as valuable legal professional training, as well as a wonderful cultural exchange experience.
I am really grateful for the training I received from STL, including but not limited to STL’s dual-degree curriculum, moot court opportunities and law review, all of which enabled me to successfully complete my judicial internship. The skills I learned in STL allowed me to comfortably adjust to new conditions, use my problem solving skills to analyzing new legal problems and present my legal analysis confidently in front of Judge Crawford and colleagues.
Meanwhile, this experience also reminded me of my mission and dedication as a law school student who has received nearly eight-year legal training in both Chinese law and American law. Being able to understand the differences in legal regimes, judicial practice, professional environments as well as social and cultural traditions, I was obliged to confidently represent our deeply loved country in cross-border legal communications and gracefully mitigate the gaps in transnational law practice.
“Not everything that can be counted counts; not everything that counts can be counted.” A brief quote in memory of my unforgettable internship in the District Court of Vermont.
ZHANG Xi: Clerk for Chief Judge Geoffrey Crawford, United States District Court for the District of Vermont (Rutland, Vermont)
During this externship, I conducted in-depth legal research to support court orders and opinions, and I attended drug court every two weeks. Judge Crawford was very kind to let us audit every hearing, even the routine ones. Observing hearings was one of the favorite parts of my externship.
I learned a lot from this incredible externship, including refining my research and advocacy skills. I have heard that the first supervisor/mentor in one’s career can have an influence over the course of your career. I feel so lucky and honored that I started my career with Judge Crawford and the U.S. District Court of Vermont. Judge Crawford’s commitment to his work and his kindness toward colleagues left a deep impression, which will empower my career constantly.