February 25, 2019 Articles

JIOP Alumni Spotlight: Aaron G. Clay

A program alum offers his insights and tips on how to excel as an intern and use the lessons learned in your future practice

By Cristina Henriquez

Aaron G. Clay is a patent litigation associate at Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner LLP. Aaron’s practice focuses on patent litigation and appeals dealing with pharmaceuticals and biotechnology. Aaron had the honor of interning for Judge Anna Blackburne-Rigsby at the District of Columbia Court of Appeals and Judge Gerald Bruce Lee at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. Aaron then clerked for Judge Lee at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia and for Judge Kara F. Stoll at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

How did you learn of JIOP and what made you decide to apply for and participate in the program?

I always knew that I wanted to clerk after law school, so I started searching for opportunities to intern with a judge. Through the career services office at American University Washington College of Law, my alma mater, I came across the ABA’s JIOP Program. I decided to apply because it seemed, and proved to be, a great program: It has a great pipeline for securing a judicial internship, a close network of alumni, and a summer program with other interns.

Tell me about your JIOP internship.

I ended up doing two internships. I first had the pleasure of interning for Judge Blackburne-Rigsby at the District of Columbia Court of Appeals. That was my first real exposure to the judicial process (outside of the classroom) and an opportunity to develop my legal writing skills.

That internship led to my second internship, with Judge Lee in the Eastern District of Virginia. That was also a great opportunity. Judge Lee is very well connected with the JIOP Program and with my law school as it was his alma mater as well. My internship experience with him solidified my interest in litigation. It was my first trial court experience, and I found that I enjoyed the diversity of cases and subject matter, as well as the day-to-day trial court operations.

I viewed both of my internship experiences as an opportunity to prepare for a post-graduate clerkship. And the internship with Judge Lee led to my clerkship as I eventually clerked for him after law school.

What are your best memories from your internship experience?

My best memories are the ones of briefing and discussing the cases around a conference room table in an open environment with the judges and other law clerks, bouncing ideas and perspectives off each other about the issues in the cases. Both of my experiences demonstrated to me that judges give interns substantive assignments and value their opinions, particularly when interns may disagree with or have a different opinion than the judge. A lot of people may shy away from expressing their views in such situations, but I think that judges really appreciate the different perspectives that the members of chambers bring to resolving the cases. In fact, that may be what judges appreciate the most.

How did you learn of JIOP and what made you decide to apply for and participate in the program?

I always knew that I wanted to clerk after law school, so I started searching for opportunities to intern with a judge. Through the career services office at American University Washington College of Law, my alma mater, I came across the ABA’s JIOP Program. I decided to apply because it seemed, and proved to be, a great program: It has a great pipeline for securing a judicial internship, a close network of alumni, and a summer program with other interns.

What did you learn from your JIOP internship?

Hard work and attention to detail go a long way. Attention to detail is very important to everything we do, especially when interning for a judge because your work product is very public. I also gained a lot of practical experience such as managing dockets, efficiently researching legal questions, and analyzing legal issues.

Have you continued to be involved in JIOP after your participation as an intern? If so, how?

Absolutely. Since my internship, I have stayed connected with JIOP. I started out on a newsletter subcommittee, and through that, I continued to hone my writing and editing skills, which translated well into my practice.

And for a few years, I served as National Alumni Cochair, overseeing the subcommittees, including newsletters.

I have also continued to engage in mentoring, networking, and professionally connecting with a lot of attorneys who work across different practice areas.

Do you have any advice for students who will be interning with a judge through JIOP?

Give it your all. Treat your internship experience like a long and extended interview, especially if you are considering applying for a clerkship right after law school. This is not a typical internship; it is a real opportunity not only to grow professionally but also to assist the judiciary in resolving difficult questions.

A lot of times students may take an unpaid internship and not take it seriously simply because it is unpaid. That is a huge mistake and a lost opportunity. Many times, the judges treat their interns as an extension of their law clerks, and that is an extremely important position. There is a lot of value that interns can add to chambers. It goes a long way to focus on producing high-quality work.

Try to soak it all in. A lot of times students do not know what practice area they want to focus on, and interning, especially at the district court level where there are so many different types of cases, can be a great opportunity to figure out the cases that interest you most. It is one thing to be in the classroom and learn from an academic perspective, and it is quite another to see the real-world application, especially in the courtroom. It can help students solidify career goals.

Did JIOP prepare you for your clerkship?

Yes. Because interning involves working closely with the judge and the law clerks, interning gives you an idea of your future day-to-day responsibilities as a clerk. Drafting bench memoranda and written opinions is something that cannot be learned in the classroom, and it was great being able to learn the requisite skills in that environment. I felt much more prepared and comfortable walking into a clerkship because of my internships.

What advice would you give to those who are interested in pursuing a clerkship?

Put yourself in a position to secure a clerkship by continuing to excel academically (or improving your grades if there are some blemishes on your transcript) and seek opportunities to develop and hone your legal writing such as participation in law review, journals, the ABA, or other publications.

Secure an internship to prepare you for your clerkship. An internship gives you an insight into the day-to-day responsibilities of a law clerk.

Apply broadly. Anyone can live anywhere for a year, especially for the experience you get as a clerk. Given how competitive it is to secure clerkships these days, the best advice is to apply as broadly as you can while considering any family and financial constraints. Regardless of the geographic location of the clerkship, the skills that you develop as a clerk are easily transferrable and applicable to any practice area. Take the risk and adventure to get the experience you need to prepare you for practice.

Even if you are not successful in securing a clerkship right out of law school, I would highly encourage people to apply even after they have been in practice a couple of years. Don’t cut yourself out just because you did not secure a clerkship straight out of law school. Practicing before your clerkship can help you in your clerkship. I did my district court clerkship right after law school, and it was a steep learning curve. It got easier after a few years of practice. When I clerked at the circuit level a few years later, I found that I could more efficiently analyze cases.

Is there anything else you would like to say to the JIOP community?

It is a great community that extends well beyond the summer program. It is a great opportunity not only to secure an internship, which will add value to your professional development, but also to get more involved in the ABA, where you can seek leadership positions and build your professional network.

I encourage everyone who has participated in the program to stay connected and continue volunteering. It helps to pull up students coming up behind you by giving them the same opportunity we all received through JIOP.

Cristina Henriquez is an associate at Mayer Brown in San Francisco, California.


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