Our interviewer, Beatriz Elizabeth Benitez, is a second-year law student interested in corporate law at Florida State University College of Law. Kelli Alces Williams is the Loula Fuller and Dan Myers Professor at Florida State and her scholarly work focuses primarily on corporate governance. She has taught at the University of Richmond School of Law, University of Iowa College of Law, George Mason University School of Law, University of Chicago Law School and is a graduate of the University of Illinois College of Law. Professor Williams teaches Property, Corporations, Securities Regulation, Bankruptcy and Contracts.
Beatriz Benitez: How did you originally get interested in business law?
Professor Williams: I started out in law school wanting to do child advocacy and one of our first legal writing projects was on divorce. After seeing what people do to each other in divorces, I figured that family law was not going to work for me and I really liked my business law classes like contracts and property. So, I took more classes in that area and enjoyed the types of questions business law posed.
Beatriz Benitez: Why Florida State? How did you end up teaching here and what has kept you here?
Professor Williams: This is one of the schools that I really liked from the beginning of my teaching career. The faculty has a strong scholarly reputation, it was in the southeast and I was familiar with the area. When I came to interview it felt like a good fit and it was a place I wanted to come back to. It was an up-and-coming school with a lot of potential. It was exciting, and still is exciting, to be a part of that.
Beatriz Benitez: What are some of the differences you have found teaching in a smaller town versus teaching in a big city like Chicago?
Professor Williams: Our students are great! They are very interested, engaged in class and interesting. Our students are more laid back than what I have seen of students in bigger cities, who tend to be a little more intense.
Beatriz Benitez: What advice do you have for students deciding to attend law school or in choosing a law school? What do you think are some of the important factors you considered or have found important in choosing a law school?
Professor Williams: I thought I went into law school knowing exactly what I wanted to do and I changed my mind. I was looking for what I thought I needed based on what I thought I wanted to do. I ended up choosing a school that gave me a well-rounded program and that ended up being a good choice. I have come to understand that all but a few law schools are largely regional schools. I had not realized how insular legal markets are and how hard it can be to break into a legal market without an alumni presence from your law school. You should think carefully about where you want to work when choosing where you want to go to law school.
Beatriz Benitez: What was your 1L year like?
Professor Williams: I was really anxious because I did not know how I was doing and at the beginning of my first semester I did not know what I was supposed to do. The hardest part was the uncertainty. Listening to professors’ questions and seeing if I knew the answer was my way of knowing whether I was on track. I really felt like class discussion was the only way I knew if I was getting what I was supposed to be getting out of the material.
Beatriz Benitez: Any key advice for what helped you survive the transition to law school and your 1L year?
Professor Williams: Try really hard to keep in touch with your closest friends and family even if it means you have to schedule times to talk to people. You really need a support network.
Beatriz Benitez: I know you always tell us in class to eat cake to get through tough the times, but what do you do during times of stress?
Professor Williams: Yoga. Walking. My dad is a law professor so it is great to be able to talk to him about work-related stuff. My best friend from middle school is great because I can always talk to her about anything else. Having the constant, steady support of my husband at home is comforting. Having people to talk to about work and other people to talk to about anything but work is a good strategy.
Beatriz Benitez: What are three things you cannot live without?
Professor Williams: 1. Decaffeinated tea–on vacation I take tea bags with me. 2. An afternoon nap–I am a napper since I do not drink caffeine. 3. Dark chocolate covered almonds–this is how I overcome my cake cravings.
Beatriz Benitez: If you got stuck on an island and could only eat two things for the rest of your life, what would they be and why?
Professor Williams: Dark chocolate covered almonds and Cuban beef stew. The almonds are my little dessert vacation at the end of the day. The Cuban beef stew is delicious and healthy and comforting all at once.
Beatriz Benitez: What is your favorite season/holiday and why?
Professor Williams: Fall is my favorite season because I like the weather getting cooler and I am less allergic to fall than I am to spring. Christmas is my favorite holiday because my birthday is a week before, so it is just a fun, festive time of year. I get really excited about shopping for Christmas gifts for my friends and family and for less fortunate children in the community. It is fun to try to make magic happen for people at that time of year.
Beatriz Elizabeth Benitez, 2L
Kelli Alces Williams, Loula Fuller and Dan Myers Professor
Balancing A Summer with Both Legal Experience and a Learning Experience Through Study Abroad Can Be Done…and Can Be Rewarding
Taking advantage of opportunities as a law student should include your summer months as well as the fall and spring semesters. Last summer, the College of Law students below took this to heart for the summer between their 1L and 2L years. Each participated in a legal program, internship or job during the first part of their summer and then spent the second part as participants in Florida State University College of Law’s Summer Program in Law at Oxford.
First Part – Experience
I spent the first part of my summer last year interning with a judge in Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal in West Palm Beach, Florida. Having participated as a member of the Moot Court team, I was very interested in exploring appellate advocacy and this internship gave me exposure to appellate work from a judge’s perspective. I was challenged by exposure to cases in areas I had not yet studied and by having to help serve as the decision maker when weighing both sides of an argument instead of just playing the role of an advocate for one side. This opportunity really helped me recognize the importance of being flexible.
I never imagined I would be spending my first law school summer working with a judge, but I definitely learned how important networking and having an open mind can be. I also had not realized just how small the legal community was in South Florida. I discovered this opportunity through a family member of a friend of a friend who had heard that I was in law school and asked the judge about having a summer intern. I also assumed that I would be spending this time at home in Miami and the idea of an internship in a neighboring county was not something I had event considered.
Last summer I was lucky enough to have three weeks off before I had to be back in Tallahassee to work on the Florida State University Summer for Undergraduates Program (SUG). So, after the spring semester I went back home, visited family, took a trip to Disney World and went out on the boat. Basically, I did everything other than studying.
When I returned to Tallahassee, I was met by 60+ undergraduate students from all over the country. SUG puts these students through a four-week, full-immersive law school program. Participants take classes with law school professors, attend presentations from lawyers practicing in various areas, hear from different campus offices about preparing for law school and even visit brick and mortar law firms all over the city. In my role, I mentored student participants, helped facilitate the running of the program and had a great time doing it.
Last summer I worked for a law firm that handled personal injury cases. Being very interested in this area, I could not wait to get started and get some exposure to in this area. Fortunately, I got that and so much more! I attended depositions and mediations and performed research in multiple areas of law, including areas that I was not familiar. What I discovered by doing this was that there are other areas that interest me, including labor and employment law and commercial litigation. Following this experience my advice to anyone studying law is to not be afraid of stepping outside of your comfort zone, even if you already think you know exactly what area you want to practice. It cannot hurt and will either help confirm your choice or open your eyes to other possibilities.
In the first part of my summer last year I worked as an intern for a county criminal judge. Interning for a judge was surprisingly fun. For someone who is not from a family of legal professionals this was a great opportunity to see what occurs both inside and outside of the courtroom. It also offered tremendous insight into the work of prosecutors, defense attorneys (both private and public), the trial process in general and some of the legal issues that arise. During this time I was able to conduct legal research and even wrote a judicial order.
Second Part – Summer Program in Law at Oxford
I spent the latter part of my summer as a participant in the Summer Program in Law at Oxford. As optimistic and open as I am, I was at first concerned about traveling so far from home to take classes at Oxford. I now know I had nothing at all to worry about. There is something wonderful about being taken out of your comfort zone and becoming the foreigner in another place. I learned a lot about myself, the culture of England and others. I even expanded my role as the international traveler by visiting France and Italy as well. The program itself is truly amazing, well organized and I experienced some great professors and classes.
I will never forget my time spent in Oxford. While there I enjoyed my 23rd birthday, cut my hair, discovered that shopping in the UK is absolutely wonderful, and learned new lingo. It all came to an end much too early and I was not ready to go, but I definitely left with a greater appreciation for life.
The second, and best part of my summer was studying abroad as a participant in the Summer Program in Law at Oxford. One of my fellow law student and I went over early, flew into Rome, and spent nine days traveling around Italy before eventually making our way to Oxford. Once there, it was hard to differentiate between class work and a vacation. Oxford is easily one of the most beautiful cities I have ever visited. Every day was like waking up and going to class in a castle. We took courses from Oxford Dons and College of Law professors. It was a six-week program and I can say without a doubt, was one of the best six weeks of my life. From exploring the City of Oxford and seeing a Shakespearean play in Stratford-upon-Avon, to sightseeing in London and learning about English legal history, it was an unforgettable summer.
The second half of my summer was definitely an experience I will truly never forget, as I spent it as a participant in the Summer Program in Law at Oxford. Not only did I get to travel to four countries I had never visited before, but I also took classes with actual Oxford Dons and with our very own Professor Téson. Throughout this experience I was able to travel while also learning about the different legal systems of the countries I visited. Two of the courses I really enjoyed were English Legal History and European Union Law. I had never studied abroad or even traveled abroad before, so I was thankful for the opportunity and am so glad that I decided to do it. I know this experience will truly be invaluable for me now and in the future.
The rest of my summer was spent abroad as a participant in the Summer Program in Law at Oxford. For anyone looking for adventure, while earning college credit, this is a great program. It is also an excellent opportunity for anyone who has not traveled abroad before. Not only do you get to stay at the world-renowned Oxford University, but the program also provides for and encourages travel and exploration outside of Oxford. While gaining exposure to a different culture and experiencing England’s rich history first-hand, I also was able to make new friends and amass some unforgettable memories.
I began last summer concerned that about prospects for landing a job after graduation. I ended the summer with new legal knowledge, a wealth of cultural experiences and assurance that I was going down the right path for my legal career.
When I finished my final law school examination last spring, a grueling 3-hour experiences that left me dazed and confused, I spent the rest of that day watching reruns of The Office and eating BOGO Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream I had purchased from Publix. At that time I had a lot to look forward to during the summer, but it was not as clear to me then. By the conclusion of summer I had come to realized just how valuable my summer experiences had been and just how much I had enjoyed them all.
Last summer was a period of growth for me in more ways than one. I have normally been someone who has every aspect of my life planned out in advance. This included choosing the path to law school early and not looking back. However, my experiences last summer helped me realize how important it is to be flexible. Before summer I thought I would practice civil litigation law, and specifically personal injury law. My overall summer experience working, traveling and learning about other areas of law opened my eyes to options I may not have considered before. It also got me to start asking; “How can we know what we really enjoy if we do not explore other options?”
I am extremely lucky to have been able to participate in the opportunities I did last summer. I encourage anyone thinking about what to do during the summer to explore your options and secure an opportunity (or opportunities). For me the process started immediately after the fall semester and final plans did not materialize until almost the end of the spring semester. I sent in many applications to different jobs and summer programs and most were denied. However, it all turned out to my satisfaction and was a very rewarding summer.
Aquellah Mitchell, 2L
Grey Dodge, 2L
Lauren Thompson, 2L
Rob Sylvester, 2L
After my first year of law school I was very happy with how everything had turned out. I had been elected vice president of our Black Law Students Association (BLSA), had worked as a Student Ambassador since the beginning of the spring semester and I had been crowned Miss Tallahassee. On top of that, I was pleased with my academic performance and was active in my church. However, we were told that legal experience, employment and networking during the summer were important, even if we were taking some classes, so landing a summer job was high on my list of priorities.
While I explored different options, I did not have much luck at first. I participated in an on-campus interview (OCI) with one law firm and thought my interview went great. This was reinforced by the fact that I received a thank you note from the attorney that interviewed me even before I had the chance to send one. I did not get the job, though. I had also met an attorney from the sports industry at an organization lunch during the school year who encouraged me to apply for their summer internship opportunities. He had even offered to walk my resume into their hiring department himself and another contact of mine had arranged for me to talk to the company vice president. I thought I had that one in the bag until I received the rejection letter a month later.
By this point I was really discouraged. I did not understand why I was not getting any offers. I felt like I had the grades, the personality and enough documented leadership and involvement to qualify me for jobs in a variety of areas. So, I decided to enroll in a summer law class and began the on-line event management program offered through the Graduate School at Florida State.
A few weeks later, I was encouraged by Dean Ingram in our Office of Student Affairs to apply for a positions as a mentor for the Florida State University College of Law Summer for Undergraduates (SUG) Program. I submitted the application and got the job. I was very excited because the job included event planning, working with undergraduate students and they were going to pay me! Knowing that it would only be for four weeks, I continued my job search for something to do for the rest of the summer after the program ended.
I really enjoyed my time as a mentor for SUG. I was able to interact with faculty, staff, prospective and current students and even a lot of distinguished alumni who came to visit with the students. So, it also became an opportunity to grow my legal network and gain new perspectives on how to approach my legal education. I also participated in behind-the-scenes tours of the Florida Capitol, seminars with alumni and attorneys and luncheons with faculty and College of Law deans. By chance, I ended up having a conversation with one of my first year professors that turned into an offer to work for him as a research assistant after SUG ended.
I was also offered a job clerking for my BLSA Mock Trial Coach at the Florida Department of Business and Regulation (DBPR) Office of the General Counsel. I started working there too after SUG ended and got a lot of experience drafting administrative complaints, closing orders, motions, correspondence and other legal documents.
As it turns out, my first law school summer ended up being full of many different experiences that were applicable to various areas of my life and future legal career. After the summer ended, I continued working at DBPR and also started working as an assistant to the Director of Membership and Marketing at the Tallahassee Museum.
If you do not get that dream job you thought you would for the summer, do not give up! Just remember that there are other options out there, so keep trying and be open to opportunities you might not have first considered. If your experience is anything like mine, the opportunities you land just might end up being more valuable to you than the one you wanted.
Lauryn A. Collier, 2L
Ever thought of turning your apartment into a UPS store? Spending at least half of your time on something other than schoolwork? Sending your information to as many as 100 different judges across the country?
Me either, until I decided to apply for federal clerkship positions. Federal judges start accepting applications over a year before you will actually start working. The application process starts in January of your 2L year and preparation may begin even sooner. If you are fortunate enough to land a federal clerkship you will also have to graduate from law school and pass a bar exam before starting.
Federal clerkships are extremely competitive positions, as the top students from every law school in the country are applying to fill one or two open positions with a limited number of federal judges who will have positions open. Florida State Law graduates are being hired for these positions, so it is not unrealistic to consider applying. The Florida State University College of Law also has a committee in place, specifically to help and guide students through the application process.
In considering if you should apply, you should answer the following questions. If you answer is yes to most, or all, then you should consider applying:
- Do you enjoy legal research?
- Do you enjoy legal writing?
- Are you interested in gaining a unique perspective of the legal system?
- Are you within the top 20% of your class?
- Are you a member of one of the law school’s journals?
- Do you have advocacy experience, either through participation in Mock Trial or Moot Court?
- Do you want to be able to put one of the most prestigious legal positions in the country on your resume?
Florida State University has various resources for students interested in applying for federal clerkships. The Clerkship Committee is comprised of extremely knowledgeable, patient, and helpful professors. The Placement Office will also review your resume and help you print mailing labels for your paper applications. The documents you will need for each application are:
- Cover letter
- Three letters of recommendation from College of Law professors
- A writing sample, about ten pages in length
If you think you have what it takes, definitely consider jumping in and applying for these opportunities. Good luck!
Melanie Kalmanson, 3L
Because I studied abroad during the summer after my first year of law school, the following summer was my first one spent right here in Tallahassee, Florida. Staying in Tallahassee for the summer provided me with some much needed rest and family time as I healed from knee surgery I underwent in the spring. As a student, I was also able to take advantage of Florida State University’s Fitness and Wellness Clinic, which assisted in my recovery and helped me get on a regular exercise regime. After recuperating, I ventured out to enjoy some of Tallahassee’s many great outdoor venues, including Tom Brown Park.
My summer in Tallahassee was also a great time to gain valuable legal experience. I continued with a part-time position alongside a family law practitioner with over 30 years of experience and clerked for a firm specializing in appellate law. These experiences provided me with opportunities to research some very novel areas of law, while simultaneously learning many of the practical ins-and-outs of operations within a law firm. I was also able to work with some great lawyers, who exemplified positive examples of what it takes to be legal practitioner. Ultimately, my summer assignments put my legal, research, writing and analytical skills to the test while allowing me to really appreciate just how much Florida State University College of Law was preparing me to participate and engage in the legal community.
While there are many reasons to be somewhere else during the summer, there are also a great many reasons to stick around and take advantage of opportunities right here in Tallahassee. As it turns out, last summer ended up being a great time for me to gain some valuable experience, start a new routine, and prepare for my exciting final year of law school at Florida State.
Nicholas G. Bush, 3L
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