It was just another Tuesday working at the Leon County Public Defender’s Office when a complete stranger got on the elevator with me. We exchanged pleasantries and right before she exited the elevator, she turned to me and said, “Make today great!” I stood there in silence and thought about those words, but at that moment I did not know that this small phrase would impact me so heavily.
Working at the public defender’s officer has been my most rewarding experience since coming to law school. Growing up in a house with two parents in law enforcement and countless cousins and uncles in the military, there was no hope for me to steer clear of criminal law. I always imagined I would eventually work as a prosecutor, but while in both college and law school, I began to notice my emotions and mindset drifted towards defense.
Taking a chance, I registered for the appropriate courses, participated in the Criminal Practice Clinic, and chose to complete my externship at the public defender’s office. I never would have guessed just how much I would grow to love the work and the people in the office. I represented real clients with real issues. Their personal liberty was at stake and it was my job to meticulously review their cases and make sure that the State of Florida and its actors had properly charged them.
My externship gave my law school education purpose and provided the “ah-ha” moment I had been waiting for to justify having chosen to attempt law school in the first place. Finding my purpose is like the feeling of finding a home. I will never forget the call I made to a client to let her know that the State received the motion I had written and would be dropping the charge against her. Her elation almost put me in tears. That euphoric feeling of helping someone else motivated me to do better, work harder, and “make today even greater”. Even though I experienced angry calls, and some clients who never returned my calls, a simple thank-you at the end of the day can make it all worth-while.
Brooke Tharpe, 3L
When I arrived at law school I expected that I might have an opportunity to be an intern at a law firm and do some behind-the-scenes work like doing legal research or drafting briefs or motions. I did not expect to get real hands-on experience. Knowing that the best way to learn how to do something is to go out there and “do it”, I definitely wanted to take advantage of such an opportunity once I found out that I could.
The College of Law offers students the opportunity to extern at either a State Attorney’s Office or Public Defender’s Office. The process starts with an in-class preparation course, the Criminal Practice Clinic. During the Clinic students are provided with training in trial and pre-trial skills and are provided with the information needed for the job through a very hands-on approach. Professor Krieger, who teaches the course, is a seasoned prosecutor and his experience and insights are invaluable.
During the in-class portion, we were taught everything we need to know related to criminal process from the time the accused is taken into custody, to filing motions, through the end of a trial. I chose the prosecution side, so my goal was to work in a State Attorney’s Office. Even while in the class, I still did not think about how much real work I would be doing. I did not think that they would really give law students so much responsibility when it came to criminal records and real criminal cases. I was completely wrong!
After completing the course and obtaining my designation as a Certified Legal Intern (CLI), I spent my summer completing my externship placement in Tallahassee at the Office of the State Attorney, 2nd Judicial Circuit, Juvenile Division. I started by observing what my supervisor was doing and recognized a lot from what I had learned in my class. Before I knew it I was arguing cases for the State of Florida in first appearance hearings, doing arraignments, offering plea deals, and even participating in trial proceedings. I made many of the decisions on how to proceed with a case, including exactly what to offer a defendant in a plea deal.
As I noted, these were things I never thought I would be doing as a law student. There was a lot of pressure to because this was someone’s future and I also had the consideration of the victims in the back of my mind. It was a great learning experience because I experienced what lawyers are dealing with every day. My efforts secured a conviction during my only case that went to trial. It was a great feeling to win a case; a feeling I never thought I would have so early on in my legal career.
Getting hands-on experience through an externship was one of the best decisions I have made since starting law school! It also helped confirm my desire to go into criminal litigation after law school. I recommend it to anyone who is thinking about doing litigation, whether criminal or civil.
Employers love seeing this on your resume and talking about your experience as a CLI during interviews. I can speak from experience because this was the very first thing an interviewer asked me about during my first interview as a 3L.
Matt Sulkin, 3L
Following my 2L year, I received an offer to work as a summer associate with my dream law firm in Tampa, Florida after participating in the on-campus interview (OCI) process with our Placement Office. As soon I finished my final exams I headed straight to Tampa to begin my summer clerkship with the firm.
They wasted no time in getting me assimilated. On my very first day, I met another summer associate I would be working with, attended a meet-and-great breakfast with many of the firm’s attorneys, went through training exercises, and was shown to my office. I cannot express how exciting it was to actually have my very own office! I was nervous, but as I came into contact with more people, I was made to feel welcome and gradually felt more at ease.
As summer associates, we were treated like and assigned the same type of work as a first-year associate and were invited and encouraged to attend various department meetings whenever we could. The attorneys I came in contact with came from a wide variety of backgrounds and ranged from first-year associates to senior partners. The firm had approximately 70 attorneys, so I had the opportunity to observe a diverse range of legal practice. These included different writing styles, operational preferences, and approaches to legal analysis.
It was exciting to apply what I had learned in my classes in real-life scenarios and the supportive environment made me feel purposeful. As the summer progressed I became more acquainted with different areas of law and practice. I had never considered some of these areas before, and several really appealed to me.
On top of the work-related aspects of my clerkship, the summer associate program also had an incredibly robust social component designed to help us get to know the attorneys outside of the office. In addition to being invited to lunch by different attorneys each day, the full-time associates planned structured events and put a great amount of effort into making sure that we had a one-of-a-kind summer associate experience. These events included happy hours (with delicious food!), a Tampa Bay Rays baseball game, a Tampa Bay Storm arena football game (in the firm’s box at Amalie Arena), kayaking at Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, a wine tasting event in Ybor City, and a social gathering that gave us an opportunity to meet summer associates from other law firms in Tampa.
By the end of my 10 weeks I was completely sold. I knew that these were the attorneys I want to work with in my professional career. I spent the next few weeks relaxing and enjoying a break, learning to catch lobsters in Key West, and ended up adopting a dog. Not long after arriving back in Tallahassee to prepare for my 3L year, I received a phone call from the firm offering me a permanent associate position after graduation. Not a bad way to top off your 2L summer!
April Zinober, 3L
You hear all the time that your 1L year is the hardest, and it gets easier after that. It definitely seemed like that to me because I was focused on academics my first year. Now, as a 2L, I also have the freedom to choose my classes as well as what I want to do outside class to supplement my legal education.
There are many different approaches, but it seems that the focus in the 2L year shifts to building one’s resume. One of the many great aspects of the Florida State University College of Law experience is that you have many diverse opportunities to explore as a student. With so many opportunities—clinics, externships, internships, student organizations, and co-curricular activities—how do you determine where to focus your efforts?
For the people who know with 100% certainty what they want to do with their law degrees, the choices are a bit easier. But for those of us who are not even 10% sure, the sheer number of choices can be overwhelming. Either way, it is easy to overcommit and then find yourself booked for every second of every day.
You will not be alone in the crazy endeavor to try and do everything but here are some simple tips for managing the seemingly unmanageable as your look forward to your 2L year.
Surround yourself with dependable people and make sure that you too can be counted on when needed. You cannot do everything yourself, so you have to be able to lean on those around you. This is especially important if you are going to be in student group leadership positions or team activities. Make sure whoever you work with are people you can trust to get their tasks done and make sure that you allot an adequate amount of time to get your tasks done.
Your calendar is your best friend (after caffeine of course). Scheduling and sticking by your calendar is important. Whether it is electronic or hard-copy, make sure it gives you somewhere to write down EVERYTHING in one place so that nothing will fall through the cracks.
Concentrate on things that you love. Getting involved in an activity, joining a group, or taking a job just to build one’s resume does not really benefit anyone. There are too many opportunities to be involved in something you will find rewarding. So, do not jump into something that will make you unhappy or dissatisfied.
School comes first. Personally, I love my job more than I love going to class, but one has to graduate and pass the bar to become a real lawyer. So, keep up with your reading assignments and homework and always go to class. Even those classes that begin at 8:00 a.m.
Take care of yourself. It does not do you or anyone around you any good if you are sick all the time or you are too tired to function. So eat well, get your rest, and set aside some time to spend with your friends. You need your health and your sanity to be a productive, so use that handy dandy super calendar I already mentioned above.
Don’t panic. Starting at the end of the fall semester of your 1L year, you will be able to start looking at your options. During the following spring many will be laid out in front of you by the various co-curricular organizations, the placement office, the externship office, and student groups. Just keep telling yourself not to panic because you do not have to do everything.
No matter what you choose to do, you will handle it like a champ if you keep these things in mind. You know what will be best for you, so take advantage of those opportunities that interest you and you will have a great experience!+
Katie Harrington, 2L
This past summer I had the opportunity to serve as a summer clerk for a Federal Magistrate Judge in Jacksonville, Florida. Since the beginning of law school, the possibility of clerking for a judge was something I had always been interested in doing, but was concerned I might not have the necessary grades, class rank, or connections. So I began working to prepare myself for this position during the summer of 2014 while clerking for the United States Attorney’s Office.
While at the U.S. Attorney’s Office we were encouraged to attend various types of proceedings to get a feel for the environment of federal courts. In doing so, I came across a judge for whom I was determined to work the following summer. From her reputation in the office and her demeanor on the bench, I knew learning from her would be invaluable. I remained a consistent presence in her courtroom throughout the summer, asked to meet with her before I returned to school, and left her with my resume. She later told me my persistence as well as being assertive was what landed me the position.
To say I learned a lot clerking for a federal judge would be an understatement. On my first day I was given a checklist of preliminary assignments I was to complete before I would be delegated any “actual” work. This checklist contained multiple reading assignments including four books about grammar and concise writing, the Federal Rules of Evidence, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and hour-long interviews with each of the U.S. Supreme Court Justices about what makes a good writer. I did not think I would have time to finish all of this before I had to return to the College of Law for the fall semester.
About two weeks and a lot of homework later, I received my first assignment. After working on it for almost a month, the Judge was kind enough to pour over it line by line asking me to explain why I chose certain words or phrasing. This took four hours. Her input has shaped the way I write even text messages since. It was intimidating to say the least, but I now feel more confident than I ever have with my writing style.
The thing that surprised me most was the Judge’s interest in my future. I was applying for jobs throughout the summer and she took time to put me through interview boot camps and helped me find the perfect power suit. She also helped me perfect the art of “thank you” notes and taught me the necessity of Crane paper. Her help and guidance throughout the application and interview process aided me in landing my job after graduation this fall.
I am so lucky to have spent the summer learning and refining not only my work but my professional identity. It has reaffirmed for me that in the real world there is more to a law student than their resume and grades, and there is more to be gained in a summer position than how to file a motion.
Just as the new 1Ls are buzzing around town gathering their first set of books and hurrying to complete their first set of reading assignments, the 2Ls are congregating and having new experiences too. One group of 2Ls in particular is enveloped in enticing opening statements, expressive direct examinations, fiery cross-examinations and convincing closing arguments. All of this presented in full courtroom attire in the courtrooms of the Florida State University College of Law Advocacy Center.
These new members of the Florida State University College of Law Mock Trial team were chosen through a try-out process held during the past spring semester. Throughout the summer some participated in optional clinics to provide that extra “oomph” of practice for upcoming competition. In August and September, these new members are broken out into smaller, three and four-member teams with each being assigned to a returning member who will act as their coach for the upcoming intramural sessions.
All of the teams receive an identical case packet and each team practices for weeks determining how they will approach the case, perfecting their presentations, and strategizing. In the latter weeks of the process, the teams compete against each other in several rounds of intramurals, or “IMs”. The purpose of IMs is to simulate the mock trial competition experience and to give new members exposure to what mock trial competition entails. During this process, they learn about how the process works and are provided with the opportunity to actually go through the motions in a real-life setting. Local attorneys, often College of Law Mock Trial team alumni, are brought in to judge each round and offer feedback to each team.
As someone who has gone through this process, I can attest to just how much IMs help in getting one past the mock trial learning curve. It was an eye-opening and humbling experience to realize just how much talent, hard-work, and commitment each member brings to the Mock Trial team. Each night of competition we arrived with our game faces on, ready to give it our all. I was thoroughly impressed by my team as well as with the skills and abilities of the other teams. I was especially fascinated with how other teams presented the case in ways that my team had not even considered.
It was also amazing to witness the dedication of Tallahassee’s legal community to the College of Law Mock Trial team. They gave their time and undivided attention to judging each competition (each lasting 3 hours) and then provided individualized feedback to the competitors for improving their performance in future state-wide and nation-wide competitions.
Overall, Mock Trial is a great opportunity to acclimate yourself to the courtroom experience, especially if you are interested in a career in litigation. I was interested in Mock Trial because I wanted to become more comfortable with public speaking. I can definitely say that this has already come to fruition. Whatever your interest, there is a wide array of skills to be gained by any future attorney through participation in the College of Law Mock Trial team.
I am MaryCatherine Crock and I am a third-year student at Florida State University College of Law. Although I plan on pursuing a career in criminal law, constitutional law has become a passion of mine, both inside and outside of the classroom. I had the pleasure of having Professor Nat S. Stern for Constitutional Law I and Constitutional Law II. Professor Stern is a well-known instructor and scholar and is a favorite among the students at the College of Law. I had the opportunity to interview Professor Stern about his passion for constitutional law, his research and academic activities, and what advice he would offer to both prospective and current law students.
MaryCatherine Crock: Can you give us a little background about your legal education?
Professor Stern: I received my B.A. from Brown University and my J.D. from Harvard University.
MaryCatherine Crock: How did you become interested in constitutional law?
Professor Stern: My favorite course as an undergraduate was a political science class about the judicial system that included a significant number of Supreme Court opinions on constitutional law. Unsurprisingly, my favorite class in law school was Constitutional Law.
MaryCatherine Crock: What are your research interests?
Professor Stern: I focus principally on First Amendment doctrine and specifically on commercial speech and defamation.
MaryCatherine Crock: What advice would you offer a student pursuing a career in academia?
Professor Stern: In academia, especially, publication is crucial. A person seriously interested in pursuing such a career should begin writing early.
MaryCatherine Crock: Why is Florida State University College of Law such a great choice for one’s legal education?
Professor Stern: I don’t think I can list all the reasons! One of the most important, though, is our wonderful student culture. Faculty visiting from other schools routinely comment to me on how supportive our students seem to be of one another. Another is the deep commitment of the faculty to the law school’s teaching mission. While the faculty is best known to the outside world for its scholarship, extensive publication has in no way come at the sacrifice of devotion to teaching. Surveys of our students have consistently confirmed this to be the case.
MaryCatherine Crock: What do you love most about teaching?
Professor Stern: It would have to be the opportunity to interact with a diverse group of really bright, talented, and enthusiastic students.
MaryCatherine Crock: Are you involved with advising any extra-curriculars? If so, can you tell us about them?
Professor Stern: My principal involvement since coming to the law school has been with the FSU College of Law Moot Court Team, which had established a tradition of excellence and success long before I assumed the role of advisor in 1993.
MaryCatherine Crock: Who is your favorite Supreme Court Justice and why?
Professor Stern: I really can’t single out one. I guess it shows my affinity for constitutional law that I enjoy reading the opinions of Justices with a wide range of judicial philosophies.
MaryCatherine Crock: What is your biggest piece of advice for incoming/prospective law students?
Professor Stern: Don’t feel that you need to concentrate on learning law before you arrive at law school. In particular, don’t feel pressed to load up on “pre-law” courses in college. On the contrary, the more broadly you are educated before attending law school, the more effectively you’ll be able to employ the legal tools that will be placed at your disposal there.
Since the age of twelve I knew that I wanted to go to law school and become a lawyer. As the time grew closer for me to actually apply and attend, I became very anxious about what law school was like. The thought of law school was definitely intimidating and when I arrived I found out that some things I had believed about law school were not true:
You cannot maintain personal relationships while you are in law school: I believed that once you began law school you had to shut yourself up in a room and never come out. Contrary to this belief, I have not only been able to maintain existing relationships outside of law school, but also form new relationships with both my Florida State law school professors, my fellow classmates, and alumni.
The professors are here to make you cry: Before law school, I was under the impression that law school professors were there to tell you how wrong you were and to embarrass you in front of your peers. I have definitely found this not to be true at Florida State. All of my professors are genuinely interested in knowing how we view the material as well as how and why we reach the conclusions we do.
Trust no one: I thought that everyone in law school was focused on making it to the top of the class and would do whatever it took to get there. What I have discovered at Florida State is that while working hard to do the best they can, students also work together to help each other succeed. Whether it is through study groups, mentoring, or student activities, students maintain a very positive and collegial atmosphere at the College of Law.
What I have learned is that law school is not always what you believe it to be. What you read in books or even what others who have been to law school tell you will not always the case. In reality, your law school experience is what you make of it and each person will have an entirely different law school experience, whether at the same or at different law schools.
You will also face choices and how you prioritize things while in law school will affect your overall experience. One example is that if you feel that time spent with a significant other could be better spent studying; you may want to minimize or decide not to have a relationship while in law school. Before coming to law school, and even while choosing a law school, you should take the time to analyze what it is that you want from your law school experience and what areas of your life you want to maintain. If you do this, you will be able to find a good balance and ensure that your law school experience is not what you thought law school would be but what you want it to be.
You will hear a lot about all of the exciting opportunities that law school brings. You will also hear about how to hone your legal writing skills, how to make yourself marketable, and how to perfect your resume. I am here to tell you that the biggest favor you can do for yourself is to establish a support system. Make friends and find people with whom you can be vulnerable. Establishing personal relationships and taking care of your personal life is the basis of a good, solid, law school experience.
The stress of law school can be a burden, but this is just something that comes with preparation for a challenging career. If you (like me) moved to a new city to attend law school with few (or no) established personal connections, it can also be an isolating experience. The friends that you made in college have already moved on to careers or other educational endeavors and you may sense that there is something different about law school than other educational experiences you have had. If you let it, this can be a source of internal conflict and struggle.
As humans, we are social creatures which need to vent, be heard, and most of all, to feel as though someone else “gets us”. It may be hard to understand that coping in law school is a different kind of experience. In the past your parents and friends were there to love and support you. Now, they may be impressed with your being in such a prestigious program, but they are unaware of what you are actually experiencing. Some of your friends in medical school might understand how busy you are, but theirs is still a remote experience from yours. What you need to get through all of this is a solid friendship with a fellow law student (or two) experiencing the same things as you are day-to-day.
You need someone who can laugh with you at the surprisingly robust humor coming through the staggering amount of legal puns, mishaps, and minutiae. You need someone to vent to about the material, how frustrated you feel about a thorny legal issue, and how confusing some of the opinions can be. Someone who also asks: “Do we really have to read all seven pages of Justice Antonin Scalia’s dissent?” (Answer: Yes). In short, you need a friend who can relate to your experience.
My first month as a 1L is still a hazy blur from which few details emerge clearly. Fortunately, I met two close friends during that time. They have since been with me every step of the way. I am convinced that our friendship actually helped keep us sane. Of course, the College of Law is filled with wonderful people. I have an extended circle of friends that goes far beyond my two closest confidants, but these two individuals were there for every late night study session, all of the endless lunches, many heated debates, and long hours of confusing lectures. We had a lot of stress and even more work. Mostly, though, we had someone else to call when it felt like it was too much.