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