August 09, 2017

An Alum’s Guide to Surviving a Judicial Internship with a State Supreme Court

Blake Moscatello – January 23, 2017

I expected day one to be a pamphlet reading of the history of the Arizona Supreme Court and maybe completing some human resources documents. I was pleasantly surprised, however, when I was instead called into the chambers of the justice for whom I was interning to discuss a pending dissenting opinion. I was given the facts of the case and the position my justice was taking. My first hour of my first day, I was tasked with writing a memorandum in support of the justice's dissenting opinion.

As a naïve law student, and with four class-written memoranda under my belt, I was sure that my justice desired a beautifully constructed 20-page memo chronicling the histories and vast depths of the legal issues in front of me. I peppered in thesaurus-found words and expanded simple sentences into novellas. By the end of the week, I had my memo done, with all of the Bluebook citations needed to surpass every expectation my justice could have had for me.

To my surprise, in my review with the justice, my memo was covered in red, the margins covered in seemingly more wording than what was in the memo. I was encouraged to dwindle down my memo to no more than eight pages, to focus sharply on the legal issues, and to write concisely. I spent the next few days eliminating unnecessary sections and rewriting what I failed to address. My second draft was eight pages and well-received by the justice.

I quickly learned it wasn't my job to rewrite a literary classic, and my writing needed to simply do one thing: state the law. Hopefully my experience can help future JIOP interns be better prepared on their first day. To that end, I share the additional lessons I learned from the Arizona Supreme Court.

  • Develop relationships with the clerks and judicial assistants. My first few weeks, I kept to myself. I spent my lunch-hour alone and spent the remainder of my days buried in my research and writing. This would have made for a lonely summer. I began accepting invitations to lunches. I developed great relationships with judicial clerks and judicial assistants. This allowed my experience to extend beyond the scope of a summer and afforded me the opportunity to maintain relationships with people who will be working at various law firms and agencies in the legal community I will soon be a part of.
  • Don't be afraid to be yourself. This seems cliché. But as a law student amongst law school graduates and supreme court justices, I had a fear that I had to prove what I knew or prove that I was worthy of being there. But guess what? Not everybody likes talking about the law every second of every day. The people I met learned about who I was, my children, my interests, and it allowed me to get to know each of them better as well. Opening up and being myself transformed my experience into one that I enjoyed on so many levels.
  • Learn from what others have done. The Arizona Supreme Court, and likely most other courts, had a drive containing past memoranda, cases, and opinions, and samples of everything that has been submitted and critiqued by the Court. Prior to writing my second draft of the previously mentioned memo, I found examples of memos written by other clerks, and revisions made by my justice. This gave me a blueprint for how to write in a way that I knew would be well-received.
  • Keep in touch. As a JIOP alumnus, I am one of a lucky group who has experienced what it was like spending a summer working in chambers and assisting on legal research and writing. Don't be afraid to keep in touch with your judge/justice. Periodic emails, or even an occasional lunch meeting, are ways to maintain the relationships you make.

Blake Moscatello – January 23, 2017