Criminal Practice Clinic and Externship: A Great Training Ground For Tomorrow’s Litigators

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.

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Getting Experience During The Summer Can Be More Valuable Than You Might Think!

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!

Student ambassadors for the College of Law April Zinober, 3L