Students interested in criminal law have many different opportunities to gain experience while in law school. Many Florida State University College of Law students take advantage of these opportunities to make themselves more competitive when seeking employment after law school. Whether prosecution or defense, public organization or private law firm, many different options exist, even within the same organization. Each of these five students had completely different summer experiences, and three of them were within the same organization – the State Attorney’s Office, 2nd Judicial Circuit of Florida.
Abby Altman, 3L
During the summer following my 1L year I participated in the Florida State University College of Law Criminal Externship program as a legal intern with the State Attorney’s Office, 2nd Judicial Circuit in Tallahassee, Florida working primarily on criminal appeals cases. Through the externship program I was able to immerse myself in the criminal law world while also establishing a professional relationship with my faculty advisor, Professor Krieger.
I was initially anxious about my externship because I was not really sure about what to expect. I quickly realized that my first-year courses had prepared me very well. Confidence gained at networking noshes and by participating in oral arguments in my legal writing classes allowed me to feel comfortable and prepared me immensely for this professional experience. The skills I learned also became immediately relevant. The attorney I was paired with assigned me to draft different motions and responses each day. He was also eager to help me develop different legal arguments in support of the State’s cases, allowed me to sit with him at the bench in court, and let me take advantage of opportunities to shadow other attorneys in the office and watch any case in court that interested me.
As part of the externship program I also submitted a weekly journal detailing my experiences as well as how I was feeling throughout the entire experience. Professor Krieger addressed every one of my journal entries and made sure that I was happy and comfortable with my placement. He also provided articles every few weeks that addressed different concerns in the work place as well as mental health issues in the legal world. I summarized the articles, detailed my personal experiences and submitted my responses. I truly appreciated the resource Professor Krieger was throughout the summer. I truly appreciated having a faculty member who was genuinely concerned about whether or not I was enjoying my externship placement and that I was getting to experience everything I wanted to during my placement.
Justin Schneider, Class of 2016
During the summer after my 2L year, I worked as a Certified Legal Intern (CLI) with the State Attorney’s Office, 2nd Judicial Circuit in Tallahassee, Florida in the County Court, Misdemeanor Division. Being a CLI allowed me to do anything a practicing attorney could do as long as I was being supervised by a practicing attorney. This allowed me to speak to prosecute cases, speak to a judge on record, and argue my position in court. I chose the misdemeanor division specifically because it allowed me to argue cases in front of a jury and to speak on the record. I also had the opportunity to conduct all parts of a trial, which is uncommon, even for CLI’s.
Every day was a different challenge and was more exciting than the day prior. Four out of five days each week I spent some time in court. On a typical day I spent my first hour reviewing files and was in court with my supervising attorney by 9:00 a.m. as the judges would take the bench. While in court, I would present cases to the judge and defendant on behalf of the State of Florida and, when applicable, offer plea deals. On these days I presented anywhere from 30-50 cases and would then return to my office to work my files. On actual trial days, usually Tuesdays and Wednesdays, I would be in the courtroom during the proceedings trying cases against licensed attorneys which included arguing motions, arguing case law, and interviewing and cross examining witnesses. When trials were not scheduled, I would spend my time reviewing cases, researching legal issues and case law, contacting officers and witnesses, making plea offers, ordering and filing discovery and working with defense attorneys to get them to accept my plea deals.
A common misconception that people have regarding criminal cases is preparation time. Most people think that attorneys prepare for months or years for cases, which can be true. However, sometimes I was given a case set for trial with only a few hours to prepare. In these instances, the attorney would sit me down and go over the facts of the case with me. The licensed attorneys would have already done the preparation work for the trial and then they would let me try it. I also had my own cases that I had to prepare for as well, but because I was only there for the summer, I definitely did not have months or years to prepare. All in all, I got to try several jury trials and several bench trials. This experienced was unmatched and it really gave me an opportunity to use the skills I had learned and hone these skills for the future.
Betsy Whittinghill, Class of 2016
During the summer after my 2L year I was employed at a criminal defense law firm. I found the position through the Placement Office’s online job postings. During my time there I wrote numerous motions and pleadings and did countless hours of legal research. Because the firm was small, I also received personalized feedback and guidance on a regular basis and my supervisor was able to take on the role of mentor. I also had the opportunity to accompany my supervisor to several hearings, trials and depositions. This was a rewarding experience and I will be pursuing a career in criminal law.
Catherine Lockhart, 3L
I spent the summer after my 1L year interning at the State Attorney’s Office, 2nd Judicial Circuit in Tallahassee, Florida. It was an absolutely wonderful experience. As someone who is interested in criminal law, and aspires to be a prosecutor, I could not have spent my summer in a more fascinating and informative way. I worked under an amazing assistant state attorney who was also the felony division head. I was able to view cases from an insider’s perspective through the prosecution of violent crimes that had occurred in the Tallahassee community. I not only gained additional experience in legal research, but also had the opportunity to view the criminal justice system up close.
The legal writing and research courses at the College of Law really helped prepare me for this experience and truly expanded the scope of my research skills. It taught me to be a faster and more efficient researcher regardless of whether or not I had a few hours, a day or two, or a month to prepare for a case. The best part of my internship was being able to work closely with my supervising attorney and with the other prosecutors in the office. They took time from their very busy days to show me their process and to answer all of my questions. I even had the opportunity to visit the Tallahassee Police Department and was able to interact with investigating officers in order to see how the legal process works before a defendant ever reaches the courtroom.
Being able to view evidence and interact directly with witnesses also helped me better understand the trial process. Much of my time was spent watching trials and observing how the prosecution and defense interacted with the witnesses, the judge, the jury, and how they each presented evidence. After observing everything from voir dire (the questioning of prospective jurors) to sentencing, I was able to piece together a more complete picture of the criminal justice system.
Shelby Loveless, Class of 2016
In February of my 2L year I was researching opportunities to gain work experience over the summer and received an e-mail from the Externship Office related to an available position with the United States (U.S.) Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Florida in Tallahassee. While viewing their website, I was drawn to the “News” feed about criminals who had recently been sentenced and immediately proceeded to apply for the externship. Once I was accepted I sent in my application packet to the Department of Justice. After patiently waiting, I eventually received my Notice of Clearance and was ready to start my externship.
My first day was both exciting and intimidating. Walking into the Federal Courthouse, which is within walking distance of the College of Law, my heart began pounding as the security guards looked at me suspiciously. Upon arrival, my supervisor and I met, he took me around the office to meet everyone and he told me a little bit about each of the attorneys. This really calmed my nerves because the more people I met, the more I noticed how friendly everyone was.
Throughout the summer I worked on various aspects of a federal criminal cases. I researched topics ranging from interpretation of statutes to factual nuances. I drafted sample indictments and sentencing memorandums. I drafted an appellate brief dealing with amendments to sentencing guidelines. Overall, I received a well-rounded introduction into how diverse the position of an Assistant United States Attorney really is. My law school coursework prepared me for everything that was thrown at me. From Evidence to Criminal Procedure to Professional Responsibility, I realized all of the suggested courses I packed into my 2L year had been worth it and I would not have made it through this experience without them.
Another aspect of the externship that was invaluable was the easy access to court proceedings. The United States Attorney’s Office is housed in the Courthouse, so I could easily walk downstairs 10 minutes before each hearing. Over the course of nine weeks I saw multiple first appearances, bail hearings, probation revocation hearings, a trial, jury selection, sentencing and much more. Every time I entered the courtroom, I would see something an attorney did that I could learn from or something I knew I never wanted to say or do. All of the United States attorneys were consistently prepared, were wonderful orators and excellent advocates for the U.S. Government.
I had no idea just how rewarding this experience would be. I also never thought I would have so much autonomy with the assignments and feedback from the attorneys. I always had an attorney who would talk with me about an issue, let me sit in on a meeting or discuss law school with me. I came away from the experience with more knowledge about legal issues, more confidence in my abilities and a multitude of great professional connections. I highly recommend this externship to anyone who is interested in criminal law and the federal court system.