Major: Law Student
Where did you intern? Army Court of Criminal Appeals in Fort Belvoir, Virginia (right outside Washington, D.C.)
What did you do there? How did you get your internship? I was first introduced to the Army Court of Criminal Appeals (ACCA) when they came to FIU College of Law in September 2016 to hold oral arguments, as part of an outreach program. I attended the hearing and met with the Judge Advocates (members of the JAG Corps) and I knew immediately that these were kindred spirits and individuals who prioritized dedication, professionalism, and a meaningful career.
I reached out to ACCA to request a summer position, and I was hired by the Clerk of Court. Over the summer, I was exposed to appellate procedure, federal law and military law, and participated in researching and writing opinions (after edits from the clerk and judges).
I pursued this internship because it combined experience in an appeals court with experience in a military environment. Both of these were important to me because I hope to join the JAG Corps when I graduate law school.
What projects did you work on? How did your internship connect back to your coursework? One of the cool parts of my internship was reading trial records in order to become familiar with the issues on appeal. My supervisor recommended I start by reading the opening statements, then skip to the closing statements, and see what was different between the two. I’d then read through the record, after already having a roadmap showing how the outcome might be different than the original charges, and what evidence came through during the trial.
Although I spent the summer at a court of appeals, I came out with an appreciation for the trial process. Reading the record shows you how errors happen at trial that don’t seem to be errors at the time. It also shows how some errors become appealable, while others are not preserved.
As a law student about to start 2L, this was also a good introduction to the rules of evidence, which aren’t taught during 1L.
What was the coolest thing that happened during your internship? What did you like most about your experience? I gained a lot of practical experience. For example, I knew I’d be trying out for moot court when I got back to school, so I took notes on how attorneys navigated difficult questions posed by the judges during oral arguments.
Also, the judges at the court had an open door policy. They welcomed me to ask questions, and encouraged me to participate in discussions about the law. Before oral arguments, we’d often discuss the questions the judges hoped would be answered at the hearings. After the arguments, we’d discuss what we learned, which was sometimes different than expected.
I can’t overstate how invaluable that learning experience was for showing me what judges are looking for in appellate briefs and oral arguments. Having that experience will make me a better lawyer, and will make me a better contributor to the advancement of the law.
How did the position increase your professional confidence? I approached the internship as if it was my job, even though I had to learn so much while on the job. The best part of this summer was gaining the confidence that I can be successful in a position that is above my starting competency level, and that I can successfully learn and grow into the position.
I gave my all this summer, sometimes arriving at work at 7 a.m. and staying until 7 p.m. I saw this summer as a very limited opportunity to gain insight into the court, and I was committed to getting the most out of it. It was an even more limited opportunity to contribute to the court, and I was committed to doing quality work.
What did you learn about yourself? I learned that I’m capable of doing quality work at a high level of scrutiny. I had a foundation in the law from my 1L year, but most of the issues I worked on were completely new. I’m grateful for the incredible judges, commissioners and clerk who provided personal guidance and made the process of learning new law really comfortable and enjoyable.
What advice do you have for those beginning the internship process? My advice to others beginning the internship process: You’ll get what you put in. The judges didn’t demand more from me than I offered, but the more I offered the more they realized what I’m capable of, and the more responsibility they gave me for participating in the court’s work product. A summer internship is an opportunity to see yourself in a professional setting, and for others to see you, so make sure to take every opportunity to learn and grow. Have confidence in your ability to do good work, and you will.
Molly’s externship was funded by the Judge Aaron B. Cohen Judicial Externship Program, which provides FIU Law students opportunities to gain firsthand experience as judicial externs.