Author’s note: Obtaining experience through an internship with a judge is very beneficial to law students, but not all may have an opportunity to do so. The mission of the Judicial Intern Opportunity Program (JIOP) is to provide opportunities to students who are members of groups that are traditionally underrepresented in the legal profession with such experiences through judicial internships. This article explores how students should prepare and apply to JIOP.
Building a legal career is difficult; it begins your 1L year and it never ends. I always tell classmates that these three years we are sacrificing are not to get a job. We decided to throw ourselves into a very competitive environment, and our rewards are the experiences, grades, and positions we obtain during those three years that we then use to market ourselves once we graduate.
The average law school class size is around 334 students. Only a third of these students will graduate with honors; 70 percent of students will not. Out of these 334 students, how many extern with a firm, business, government, or nonprofit? Depending on the law school you attend, obtaining an externship may or may not be difficult. For instance, some law schools guarantee externships for their students. At other law schools, externships may be more competitive due to larger numbers of law schools sharing the same market or larger numbers of law students vying for the same positions. Regardless, the job market you will all enter into will be the same. Employers will be more likely to hire you if you have something that stands out on your résumé that says “I’ve worked.” If you are reading this, then you will likely hear at least once that externships with a judge are prestigious.
If your moot court tryouts leave you with anything, it will be that an attorney must always show deference to the court. The opportunity to work with a judge is an opportunity to peek behind the curtain and see a side of the law that attorneys hardly ever get a chance to see: A practicing attorney usually does not get the chance to research the law at the behest of a judge, nor does he or she usually get the chance to give the judge an informal opinion about a case. But you, as a student, can, and that is invaluable. Generally, a JIOP participant will observe court proceedings, will draft an order or a memo, and will certainly spend time communicating with a judge about a pending matter.
A judicial experience says, “I did well academically, and this experience has helped me to develop myself professionally.” It also gives the participant the opportunity to develop his or her writing, public speaking and interpersonal communications, and other skills. A judicial internship is a meaningful experience that will help you develop professionally. Given this wonderful opportunity to work closely with a judge, participation is competitive. Therefore, individuals who wish to partake in JIOP should take every opportunity to ensure the quality of their application and candidacy.
The JIOP application is open to first- and second-year law students to receive placements with federal and state judges across the United States. The application cycle for summer 2020 begins November 4, 2019, for second-year law students and December 1, 2019, for first-year students.
If you are interested in participating in the program, visit the program website and look for announcements from the ABA. And if you are not interested, just apply. Why deprive yourself of an opportunity? Again, you will be entering a competitive job market, and you should be doing all that you can to make the transition into the working world as victorious as possible.
So here are tips for how to be a successful applicant, but do not be surprised if they are similar to the tips you find applying just about anywhere.
1. Prepare Your Résumé
Grades. Do the best you can, but do not focus too much on getting the best grades. Take your course load seriously because the knowledge you learn matters, not the grade. If you get good grades, awesome! Find out if your school hands out awards for students who receive the highest grades in a class or the highest grades on an exam. The academic awards you obtain matter, but if you do not obtain them, then do not worry about it. Besides, you do not include grades on your résumé, only academic awards. However, note that JIOP will require you to attach your transcript.
Writing skills. Punctuation and grammar are key. Stop by your career services office and request that one of their professionals proofread your résumé. You might think something looks correct, but a fresh look always helps. Career services are there, in part, for that exact reason: to help you. So, ask them—politely. I cannot tell you how much my career services office helped me through this journey.
Experience: Showcasing your experience can take on many forms. Law schools typically tell students not to work during their first year. However, if you do work, place it on your résumé and make sure to highlight that experience. Nothing says, “Look, I want a career as an attorney” more than successfully balancing work and school a year earlier than the rest of your class. If you apply during your second year of law school, your experiences matter much more because you will have had an entire summer where it is presumed you worked.
If you do not have “legal” work experience, do not stress. You may not have many legal experiences unless you worked in the legal field before, during, or after your undergraduate studies; for instance, at a law firm. For example, I volunteered at a congressional office before starting law school. Aside from a few low-wage jobs, I did not have much else to work with going into law school. Sometimes, that is the reality. Besides, there are plenty of extracurriculars for you to join that will help you stand out. Apply to and try to join student organizations, volunteer organizations, journals or law review, or moot court and other competitive groups.
2. Refine Your Personal Statement and Statement of Interest
Personal statement. Tell the reviewers of your application what makes you part of an underrepresented group. Make your story interesting and compelling. They want to know who you are, and they want to make sure that you are someone they aim to help. Be as creative as you can, and have fun with it.
Statement of interest. Explain why you want to be a part of JIOP. Normally, people leave you with a few hints, like “Notice that JIOP interviewers were once participants” or “JIOP is a community that gives back.” But—I’m going to give it to you straight—you will most likely participate in these types of activities as an attorney. Such activities may include volunteering, joining bar associations, giving presentations, mentoring, and attending continuing legal education events. There is a lot you could be doing in a community, so let JIOP know that you want to become an attorney who is involved in your community, participating in these activities and giving back to society. Consider how you might give back or help shape someone’s future. That is why this opportunity is invaluable. You will stand out as an applicant if you communicate that you want to be a part of this community. As a member of an underrepresented group, demonstrate what you would contribute to the program and indicate how you will use JIOP as a means to open doors for other people like you.
3. Work on Your Interviewing Skills
Interview. Talk to someone who participated in JIOP. If you do not know anyone, contact the Section of Litigation and see if they can put you in touch with someone. Talk to people in the program and ask them what subjects you should raise in an interview. Ask about the types of questions they asked. Be proactive, and have fun. This was my favorite part of the application process because I knew that I would make a new contact in the legal community. My interviewer was a pillar in my legal community and yours may also be. In addition, go to your career services office. Do a mock interview and work on how you should present yourself at the interview.
4. Focus on the Formalities
Basics. Be on time, be professional, and be respectful. Also, if you face difficulties (for instance, a classmate of mine could not afford a suit until his second year), do not be afraid to communicate the difficulty you are experiencing and ask for help. Some people do not have family members who have graduated from college or who worked in any jobs in the legal field. Sometimes you just do not know what you are doing and that is OK. JIOP is here for you in that regard and in many other ways. Adversity comes in many different ways, but this application experience is intended to act as a softer launchpad, introducing you to the application and interview process after law school and beyond.
Ready to start your application to JIOP? You can find more information about JIOP and the application process on the ABA’s website, Summer 2020 Judicial Intern Opportunity Program—Application Period.
Cristian Lopez is a JIOP alumnus and a 3L at Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law.
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