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August 09, 2017

JIOP Specialty Courts: Sneak Peeks and Tips for Success from Insiders and Alumni

Rachel A. Smoot, Tiffany A. Johnson, Neal D. Gidvani, Judith C. Aarons, and Carly A. Boyd – June 6, 2016

The Judicial Intern Opportunity Program (JIOP) is a program unlike any other, providing first-and second-year law students with front-row seats to judicial proceedings. During a JIOP internship, students work closely with not only judges but also judicial staff, including judicial clerks, assistants, court reporters, and bailiffs. JIOP opportunities are limited in neither geography nor topic, allowing summer interns to experience and explore a wide variety of legal fields. Below are several descriptions of courts that JIOP interns may find themselves in, as well as some tips for succeeding in their respective internships.

Federal Courts with a High Volume of Intellectual Property Cases
Intellectual property (IP) courts deal with a patent-heavy docket. A patent is the right to exclude others from making, using, selling, offering for sale, or importing the patented invention for the term of the patent. Because patents are issued and regulated by the federal government, all patent cases take place in federal district courts.Certain courts have become more popular for patent cases due to accelerated times to trial. Known as “rocket dockets,” these courts include the Eastern District of Virginia, the District of Delaware, the Eastern District of Texas, the Western District of Wisconsin, the Middle District of Florida, the Southern District of Texas, and the Northern District of Texas.

A typical patent litigation suit involves the patentee or assignee filing suit against an alleged infringer. In response, the infringer may argue noninfringement or that the patent at issue is invalid, and more than one patent may be at issue. As a result, patent cases may become incredibly technical, involving complex motions and massive amounts of evidence. By the time a patent infringement action has reached trial, it is unlikely that an intern will have much to do other than observe the trial itself. However, given that only about 6,000 patent cases are currently filed per year, observing a full patent trial from start to finish is an extremely valuable opportunity.

Beyond the realm of observing patent trials and Markman hearings (preliminary patent hearings), interns may also be called to observe conferences with technical experts. Notably, interns may be asked to draft memoranda and opinions and orders on behalf of judges. These memoranda, opinions, and orders may be extremely technical and will likely involve the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and in-depth searching of related case law. Generally, IP courts will have various other types of matters in addition to their IP caseload. Thus, depending on the court, some courts go through a criminal and civil docket rotation. Therefore, writing orders and opinions as related to criminal and other types of civil proceedings is not outside the realm of possibility.

Tips for interns headed to an IP court. Brush up on civil procedure, specifically as it relates to pleading, and jurisdictional and venue issues; be prepared to turn around orders and opinions quickly, as IP courts may hear non-IP cases and require a quick turnover (e.g., criminal sentencing); attend as many hearings, trials, and interviews as possible; and as always, maintain professionalism.

Bankruptcy Courts
A second highly specialized court is bankruptcy court. Bankruptcy is a legal proceeding involving an individual (debtor) or business that is unable to repay outstanding debts and seeks to reorganize or discharge (or both) some or all of these obligations. Bankruptcy courts are separate and distinct from other types of administrative, state, or federal courts. All bankruptcy filings are handled by the U.S. district court of the particular jurisdiction under rules outlined by the U.S. Bankruptcy Code.

There are typically at least three parties to each bankruptcy filing: the debtor (petitioner), creditor, and bankruptcy trustee. The debtor is the party with the monetary obligation. The creditor is the party to whom the debt is owed. It is the trustee’s job to review the debtor’s bankruptcy petition and verify the information and calculations using financial documents, such as paystubs and tax returns of the debtor.

Like most courts, bankruptcy courts maintain a stoic and serious decorum. The judicial clerks, bailiffs, and judges all expect the parties to be familiar with bankruptcy law and typically do not take kindly to attorneys who are ill prepared or not knowledgeable. Furthermore, bankruptcy courts have well-founded sets of rules and regulations that govern the process. Experienced attorneys who have drafted and filed hundreds of petitions and other bankruptcy-related motions generally represent the debtor and creditors. The trustee serves as a go-between or referee, overseeing the process and confirming that the parties are operating within the Bankruptcy Code, and maintains staff who are present at every hearing. The bankruptcy judge makes the ultimate decision whether to approve a bankruptcy petition and will usually do so once the parties agree to the terms of the plan or the debtor’s obligations have been satisfied to the best of the trustee’s ability.

Tips for those bound for bankruptcy court. Be familiar with the specific proceeding, including being able to identify each party and each party’s role in the proceeding, particularly which parties are creditors and the amounts owed; be timely; double- and triple-check that any and all paperwork is filled out correctly.

Criminal Courts
Criminal courts are found on the local, state, and federal levels and require litigation, investigative, and appellate skills. Most students are familiar with the typical criminal defense attorney cases, but they should also be aware that attorneys represent individuals after conviction at the appellate level or those accused of white-collar crimes.

Criminal cases commence with a criminal complaint listing the charges against the defendant. Because a criminal conviction is a serious matter, often resulting in the loss of liberty and reputation, the state appoints an attorney at the time of arrest. If the defendant is convicted, the state also grants the defendant the right to appeal his or her conviction and appoints an appellate attorney. Investigations may be pursued by the prosecuting agency in cooperation with detectives, and it can take months to build a case.

A typical criminal case involves either an on-the-scene arrest or an arrest made shortly after the commission of a crime. If the perpetrator is unknown or the suspect escapes capture, then a detective is assigned to find and apprehend the suspect. After arrest, the defendant is processed at the precinct and is arraigned before a judge. The key issue at the arraignment is the amount of bail that might be imposed. It is useful to watch an attorney argue against the imposition of bail to learn what arguments will sway a judge. Defendants can end the case by accepting the prosecutor’s offer and plead guilty to the charge. However, defendants can also reject the prosecutor’s offer and proceed to trial, which can be a bench trial (by a judge) or a jury trial. The defendants need not present any evidence in their defense but can put the prosecutor to the burden to prove that the defendants are guilty of the charges.

It is useful for interns to watch a trial at different stages. Interns will notice that different attorneys have different styles, and watching these lawyers will teach interns that substance is always more important than style.

Tips for interns headed to a criminal court. Watch as many trials and sentencing hearings as possible. Pay attention to the attorneys and their arguments. Notice how they communicate with their opponents and how they address the court. Further, talk to the judge and prosecutors about their litigation experience and perspectives on criminal prosecution as compared with defense.

Domestic Relations and Juvenile Courts
Family law encompasses a wide range of issues but mainly focuses on divorce, dissolution, custody, visitation, and adoptions. There are two main courts that handle these matters: domestic relations court and juvenile court. Primarily, if two people were married, then all matters are within the jurisdiction of the domestic relations court. However, if the couple had no legal relationship, then their case would fall under the juvenile court.

When two people wish to end their marriage, there are two routes: divorce and dissolution. A contested divorce proceeding can last between 6 and 18 months with numerous court pretrials prior to a final contested trial. The parties, with the assistance of counsel, must divide up all the marital assets and debts and must allocate any parental rights and responsibilities. The major assets a couple may divide include any equity in their house, retirement benefits, and spousal support. 

If a married couple can be amicable, the couple may choose to file a dissolution. A dissolution requires that both parties signed an agreed separation agreement and parenting plan, if applicable, prior to filing with the court, and both parties must be present for the final hearing. A dissolution requires only one court hearing and can be finalized within two months of filing. A dissolution is much quicker and cheaper.

When a court looks to allocate parental rights and responsibilities, in both domestic relations court and juvenile court, the court looks to the best interest of the child. The term “parental rights and responsibilities” refers to custody and parenting time. The court evaluates factors under the statute—among others, the relationship between parents, the interrelationship with siblings or other family members, placement in the community and school, and the mental health of all parties.

In both courts, the filing of motions is crucial. An intern may have a crucial role in evaluating the initial pleadings and the subsequent motions through researching issues. An intern may also be asked to draft orders, including denial of visitation rights and temporary restraining orders.

Tips for those headed to a domestic relations or juvenile court. Take particular notes of event timelines and facts in each case. The family law arena is a hands-on practice that is best learned by going to court and watching the players in action. Family law can be a difficult practice, but this field also helps the client navigate turbulent times.

These are just a few types of courts JIOP interns may encounter. However, regardless of the type of court, the most important thing is to maintain the utmost professionalism and decorum, both inside and outside the courtroom.

Keywords: litigation, Judicial Intern Opportunity Program, JIOP, patent trials, bankruptcy court, criminal trials, domestic relations court, juvenile court

Rachel A. Smoot, Tiffany A. Johnson, Neal D. Gidvani, Judith C. Aarons, and Carly A. Boyd – June 6, 2016