by Shalyn L. Caulley, J.D. Candidate, 2017 at the University of Illinois College of Law
In today’s economy, paid summer positions available to law students after 1L year are few and far between. Most firms now only offer summer associate positions to students after they have completed at least two years of law school. This is both a blessing and a curse. It is no secret that students generally live on low budgets, many covering their costs with student loans. Having a paid summer position can help defray expenses that students incur during the school year. However, unpaid internships can offer students a unique opportunity to spend a summer exploring a side of the law they may not have the chance to experience again.
Last summer, I had the good fortune to split my summer as an intern first with Judge Debra B. Walker in the Circuit Court of Cook County, and then with Judge Thomas M. Durkin in the Northern District of Illinois. During this time I observed several state and federal trials on a diverse array of matters including: drug trafficking, deliberate indifference, custody, maintenance, workplace negligence, and more. I also had the opportunity to sit in on different proceedings and behind-the-scenes meetings such as status hearings, oral arguments, prove-ups, settlement conferences, negotiations, and pre-trial conferences. Observing these exchanges, I learned a tremendous amount about how attorneys should present themselves in court, and how to effectively communicate with opposing counsel as well as judges in order to best represent their clients.
Additionally, I was able to assist both judges with writing assignments including drafting legal memoranda and court opinions. Judge Walker and I also collaborated to write an article for Illinois Law Review that recommends federal legislation which will avoid more cases like Szanfranski (a recent Illinois Appellate Court decision regarding custody of frozen pre-embryos). While having a judge and his or her law clerks critique and edit my writing was intimidating at first, it was one of the best writing lessons I have ever received. Not only are the judges and clerks phenomenal writers themselves, they work day in and day out with sophisticated legal documents submitted by attorneys from all over the country. This means that when they took time out of their days to edit my work, they offered immensely valuable advice to help improve my writing style.
Judges are also some of the best people to know when entering into the legal market. This is because they have many years of their own legal experiences combined with their experiences working with attorneys and firms who come before them in court. Both of my judges have been more than happy to give me advice about firms, school, and the legal field generally. They were also willing to open up their networks so that I could meet with attorneys they know in order to learn about their practices and prepare for on-campus interviews.
While getting a position in a firm or agency is a goal most people in law school share, I highly recommend that all students try to spend at least one summer or semester as an intern with a judge. It affords an opportunity to learn from some of the best, and puts that student in a position to start his or her legal career with a treasure trove of knowledge and experience that is simply unattainable in the classroom.
Shalyn Caulley is a 2L at the University of Illinois College of law where she is vice president of the Women’s Law Society, a member of the Illinois Law Review, and on the ABA negotiation team. Shalyn recently accepted an offer to join Sidley Austin’s 2016 Chicago summer associate program.