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Tips for Success in a Judge's Chambers

Benjamin Twiggs Hogen


  • A judge's chambers can be intimidating, and it's natural to feel nervous when you begin working with a judge. Remember, judges are people to. Learn how to communicate with your judge.
  • The courtroom staff run the show. Get to know them and understand how their roles help the courtroom work.
  • Your judicial internship should really be an opportunity to learn about actual practice, so it is important to shift your mindset a bit ahead.
Tips for Success in a Judge's Chambers
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Congratulations! You get to work with a judge in chambers.

In law school, you were on call daily to answer questions about opinions written by judges—it’s natural to be nervous working with one for the first time. It shows you care about the assignment.

Just remember—before they put on the robes, judges are people too.

Here is some advice beyond the usual first-day tips to dress your best and to account for the extra time it might take going through courthouse security.

Get to Know Courtroom Staff

Did you know it isn’t just the judge back there? Courtroom staff are as important to judicial efficiency as the judge making the ruling. Courtroom staff may include the clerk, the courtroom assistant, and the judicial assistant. The law exists to serve practical purposes. The courtroom staff run the show.

On day one, learning how chambers operate can be overwhelming. That’s OK! Over the course of your internship, take the time to understand the role each person plays in the judicial process during your internship—not only do they know how the court runs, but they also possess insights as practically significant as knowledge of substantive law. Attorneys who appear before the court can tell you they would love to see what happens behind closed doors. So soak it all in!

Oh, and say you need a joint summary statement or the minute entry from an interesting case on last week’s docket. You could ask the judge—who must then ask the clerk, judicial assistant, or courtroom assistant to print it out for you—or you could make relationships with the staff so that they are happy to help you out when you ask them yourself.

Finally, courtroom staff are fun, professional people. They know the calendar, and they often float in different divisions—opening doors to cases and judges you did not expect to see or meet, which is especially great when a proceeding is canceled or adjourned at the very last minute.

You are about to see how valuable it is to work with a judge in chambers, to receive the judge’s input and mentorship. Just imagine forming relationships with the people who do this every day. So develop relationships with the judge and the courtroom staff to take full advantage of your internship. You will learn a lot!

Communicate with the Judge

“It takes two to tango,” so the saying goes, and it’s the same with your judicial internship. A judge willing to help you learn still needs to see your willingness to be taught.

Think of it like this: The fact you’re even permitted into chambers shows that the judge has extended you an open offer—one that is up to you every day to accept. Here’s how: Show up. Be present. Presence in this context is paramount, even more than being prepared. Because, guess what? You won’t be. And that’s the point.

Remember how the purpose of law school is to get you to think like a lawyer? It’s possible you’ll be interning in a different jurisdiction than where you go to school. Regardless, trust that the work you put in during the semester allows you to think like a lawyer. This can hardly be stressed enough—you didn’t go to law school to memorize the law; you went to ask questions that elucidate general legal principles.

And another thing—verbal communication is always superior to email. So, if it’s ever a question and unless told otherwise, poke your head in or knock on the judge’s door.

Ask Yourself, “What Do I Want?”

This is probably one of the most important questions—if not the most—to ask yourself in life. Well-intended questions that are important to you or your legal career are never “wrong.” In fact, for that reason, they are usually met with respect.

Granted, you want to become a lawyer. But that’s what law school or the bar are for. Your judicial internship should really be an opportunity to learn about actual practice, so it is important to shift your mindset a bit ahead.

In law school, we learn big-picture concepts but rarely address how they will play out legally day to day. For example, how does a complaint get to the judge in the first place? Or, if there are issues of civil, probate, and family law—all within a single action—how does the court administer among the separate issues?

Of course, a litany of court administration issues like these exists; however, by grappling with them, you may begin to form an intuition or understanding of how they are typically resolved. And, just practically speaking, this isn’t always something you learn in law school.


So get to know the courtroom staff, always communicate with the judge, and ask yourself each day, “What do I want?” By doing these three things, you will not only advance your career; it will be a fun, rewarding experience at the same time.