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April 12, 2021

JIOP as a Springboard to a Career in Litigation

Roberto Martell Jr. – August 22, 2014

I began law school unsure of the law and where it would lead me. This was not an uncommon feeling amongst nervous 1L students at Chicago-Kent College of Law. I looked around orientation and wondered where we would all be in five years. I could see myself working in many different fields, but how I would decide was still a mystery.  

I ended up meeting Matt Alva, a Judicial Intern Opportunity Program (JIOP) alum, who at the time was the president of my law school’s Hispanic Latino Law Students Association. He encouraged me to apply to JIOP, a program by the American Bar Association that places historically underrepresented students into externship positions with judges around the country. This sounded too good to be true, as it would allow me to work in a courtroom while expanding my abilities in research and writing. However, I was not sure if I wanted to do litigation as a career path. The adversarial nature of litigation can be off-putting, and Hollywood’s portrayal of trial attorneys is not doing the profession any favors. “If I had any interest in litigation,” I said to myself, “I might as well try this out.” I figured it was better to know one way or another whether arguing in a courtroom on a regular basis was for me.  

I was assigned to Judge Brigid McGrath’s courtroom in the summer of 2011, and the experiences I had in courtroom 1904 of the Daley Center in downtown Chicago changed my career path. I was given three bench memos to do on my first day, all of which were due in a week. I was to help Judge McGrath render her decisions by researching complicated contract and construction law and distilling it down to just a few pages. Needless to say, I had to learn how to do my job quickly. Judge McGrath or her permanent law clerk could call me into their offices at any moment and ask me to defend the reasoning of a memo I submitted. I had to be sure that my work was thorough and well thought out.

This experiential learning focused my career towards the courtroom. I observed Judge McGrath’s court call as often as I could and I saw how passionately the attorneys who appeared in her courtroom represented their clients. Admittedly, the source material and area of law are a bit dry, but these professionals were working as if it was the Supreme Court of the United States and the future of the First Amendment hung in the balance. This lesson, that an attorney must passionately represent a client in a professional manner greatly impacted how I saw the profession. 

I ended up working for Judge McGrath for the fall semester after the summer JIOP program concluded. She liked the work I was doing for her, but in truth I did not see it as work. I saw it as an opportunity to grow and develop my skills, and as an opportunity to find direction in my career. In the fall of my third year I was hired by the Office of the Illinois Attorney General to be a litigator. I was not told to which division I would be assigned, only that I would be in a courtroom representing my client, the state of Illinois. I ended up being assigned to the Labor Division in the General Law Bureau, where I would be enforcing the fair labor standards of the state of Illinois. This position allows me to become a better litigator and help people who have been wronged by employers. My externship with Judge McGrath, with the support of JIOP, helped me grow into the attorney I am today.

Roberto Martell Jr. – August 22, 2014