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University of Minnesota Law Students See Courts in Action Through Judicial Externship

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The Minneapolis-based law school's programs are strengthened by its location. Specifically, being very close to several state and federal courthouses makes its judicial externship program vibrant and the school itself a "really attractive" choice, says Nardolillo. The externship course places students with a federal, state, or tribal judge.

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And in the judicial externship itself, seeing the law move from the theory of the classroom to the reality of the courtroom is very interesting, says Ashley Ewald, another current externship participant. She now feels she is studying for an applicable purpose, "not just to ace the final," she says.

Students must complete at least 100 hours of externship work to receive 2 credits, and at least 150 hours to receive 3 credits for completing the course. The summer externship runs from early June to the start of the fall semester in August; the course is also offered during the academic year.

In the summer, students' hours must be spread out over at least six weeks, to get a sense of the breadth of cases. Some students choose to work for the judge for the whole summer "and get a great experience out of it," says Professor Carol Chomsky, who teaches the course. Also, some students have concurrent summer jobs or take other law school courses.

For the externship, there are no class meetings, as there are during the course in the academic year. There is a reading packet, and instead of discussing it, students write essays and send them in to Professor Chomsky. Students keep journals recording their impressions and experiences throughout their time with the courts. Students also write one long essay, says Chomsky, discussing judicial decision making and the role of clerks in that process.

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Ewald, who will be in her second year at Minnesota Law in the fall, is doing her externship with the Hennepin County District Court, Fourth Judicial District, a state trial court. The judge will be retiring next January, so he is only hearing criminal cases now, not lengthier civil cases. At the start of her externship, Ewald saw some basic cases, such as sentencing in a domestic violence case, she says. Then, the court started a more complicated murder trial.

The judge Ewald works with is "very open with what he lets me see," she says. For example, she was surprised to be told to sit up next to the judge during proceedings, having expected to be out in the gallery. The judge will tell her his thoughts on the case and the proceedings afterwards. There is another law clerk, but the judge, she feels, treats her as though she is also a clerk. "It's been very nice that way," Ewald says.

The judge is "an excellent mentor," Ewald says; and she is enjoying doing a lot of research. "I'm learning how much I don't know," she says, and seeing "how difficult a judge's job is."

Ewald is splitting her time this summer between the judicial externship and an internship with the legal department of MoneyGram International. Most students signed up for the externship before hearing whether or not they had gotten other jobs, she says. Ewald considered dropping the externship to take the corporate job alone, but she "knew it was a great opportunity" to work with a judge and decided to do both. It's expensive to lose paid hours to pay for a law school course at the same time, Ewald says, but "I'm getting my money's worth and then some," she says.

So far this summer, "I've been pleasantly surprised by both," Ewald says, and cites the wide range of legal experience that she is packing into one summer. On one hand, there is a gang-related murder trial; on the other, banking laws. "I like both for different reasons," Ewald says, adding that it will be difficult to make a career choice between the private and public sectors.

Nardolillo, on the other hand, is sure he wants to pursue a career in prosecution, preferably in the arena of federal white-collar crime. Now finished with his first year of law school, Nardolillo was a bond trader on Wall Street for six years before coming to Minnesota Law. Both the September 11 attacks and the Enron scandal motivated him to go into the law, he says, and he hopes to focus on corporate wrongdoing as a U.S. Attorney some day.

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This summer, Nardolillo's externship is with a federal magistrate judge, who assists the district court judge with the caseload of the federal district court. Nardolillo is not working as closely with the federal judge as Ewald is with the state judge, but this is not surprising. Instead, Nardolillo is assisting the federal judge's clerks in their work, watching proceedings, and helping with memo writing. The judicial externship is "absolutely" good practical writing experience, says Nardolillo. "I really needed to get some real exposure to how things unfold" in a courtroom.
University of Minnesota Law School


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