Tuesday, May 14, 2013
On my first day of my Summer Law School Internship, I experienced my first “LALALand” culture shock when I entered the ramp leading to the entrance of the Santa Monica Freeway on my way to the Spring Street Courthouse and the Office of the U.S. Attorney’s Office. … Why were there traffic lights at the bottom entrance of the Freeway?? . . Am I supposed to stop at the entrance?!?. . What happens if I don’t?? . . . Will I get a ticket on my first day as a “Fed” clerk because I didn’t stop at the entrance? . Would I have enough money if I needed bail? Later that morning at the office, I was told by a fellow clerk that the lights were “an LA thing” that I would have to get used to. One problem settled.
But there was more culture shock: what about the HUGH green signs designating the names of the streets as you approached the intersections throughout the city?? I’d never seen signs that were so big and so convenient to read (Remember, I was born in New York where the signs were either graffiti-ed over, or had been stolen years ago!). . . Oh, there’s more. . what about those rather creative vanity plates like “CLNAIR,” and “DVUS4EVER?” Nothing quite that clever back in D.C!
At work, I was assigned as a “general” law clerk in the Criminal Division. My duties included reviewing pending files in search for missing documents; making phone calls to perspective witnesses; and, even calling and speaking with the defense attorneys on pending cases. My contact with the various attorneys was by far the most interesting work that I was doing. Their responses to my calls ranged from being solicitous and promising jobs after law school (“gotta keep the AUSA’s happy! …maybe my client will get a good deal if I treat this kind right!”), to rude (“you’re just a law student, what are you talking about?!!”). Some were even downright nasty. However, coming from New York, this kind of “back and forth” never fazed me. I’d heard it all already. . “FUHGEDDABOUTIT, people!”
I was happy and busy and worked hard. However, I did find time to "play" during the summer of my summer internship. I went to both Dodger and Angel baseball games during my summer (the trek from Santa Monica to Anaheim was long, but all in a good cause – major league baseball). I also found time to go to many comedy clubs and was able to catch Jay Leno in person (I thought I was going to die from laughter!). There was also the beach and experiencing lazy days in Venice just relaxing and taking in the boardwalk and the Pacific Ocean. All work and no play surely makes for a boring law student and future lawyer.
On Fridays, I would often be allowed to leave the office early with the hope of beating the traffic back to Santa Monica before “rush hour.” A word to the wise coming from the East: this is impossible to do if you got on the road anytime after 2:00pm in the afternoon. (Yes, I did say 2:00 pm). The Freeway is a complete parking lot on a Friday afternoon (probably any day of the week these days).
My big break came when I was asked to assist then Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathryn Ann Stoltz in a white collar crime case involving bribes for business in the airline industry (Ms. Stoltz later was named to the bench and went on to an illustrious career as a Superior Court Judge in Los Angeles). I don’t remember the specifics of the case as I was, for the most part, the clerk who transported the files and exhibits to the courtroom and only had limited (if any) exposure to the pre-trial preparations. I was able to sit in the first row of the court room and learned so much about trial procedure by simply being able to watch and assist from time to time. In this regard, I could tell that it was a “big” case. Adding to the drama of the case was the fact that, at the time, AUSA Stoltz was pregnant and the office even had a “backup” team ready to try the case, should she not be able to do so.
Finally, on a beautiful sunny late July morning, it was time for the trial to commence. There is nothing quite like a federal courthouse courtroom. The huge eagle that usually rested above the judge’s chair gave the room an aura of majesty. You were truly in the “big leagues” when trying a case in Federal Court:
I can still scan the courtroom and see the two defense tables. There were multiple defendants and each one had a “team” of lawyers who all looked like the lawyers pictured above from the “LA Law” television series of the eighties. Picture two tables of overachieving, well paid, Armani suited (all men) lawyers on one side.
. . . Then there was the U.S. Government represented by a pregnant woman, moving slowing into the courtroom, a youthful second chair, and a dorky looking law school intern bringing up the rear with a shopping cart filled with documents, exhibits, and files that the government was using to prosecute the case. . . It seemed so uneven. The U.S. Government looked so overmatched in this gunfight. You had to feel sorry for this uneven threesome, right?
Well, let me tell you, by the time AUSA Stoltz had presented her case-in-chief and got through with the testifying defendants on cross-examination, the case had been won! There was no reason even for the judge to even render the verdict. . GUILTY! Ring 'em up!
One defendant had literally been left weeping bitterly on the stand when AUSA Stoltz had finished with him and walked back to her seat at the prosecution table. If the trial had been a heavyweight prize fight, the defendants’ managers would each have thrown a towel into the “ring” before closing arguments! The immortal words of fighter Roberto Duran would have resounded through the court room – “No Mas!!!”). Great trial, great experience.
I had a wonderful experience in Los Angeles during my summer internship. One thing that I obtained that was helpful was a writing sample and networking contacts, including Judge Stoltz who was kind enough to provide me with a strong letter of recommendation which helped me (I believe) to land my first job out of law school with the Kings County (Brooklyn, NY) District Attorney’s Office. Don’t leave your summer internship without having asked for the opportunity to do a legal memo, or without a list of networking contacts -- attorneys and judges who may be able to help you with your career.
Students, make the most out of your summer internships this summer. Ask for work (especially research/legal writing kind of work! that will translate into a writing sample!), and make sure you get feedback from your supervisors as to the work you do. Finally, make those networking contacts – you will have them for a lifetime. Some of these people may very well be instrumental in making and/or changing your career and, thus, your life. It worked for me.
I’ve read that Judge Stoltz has retired from the being a full-time judge a few years ago. Wherever you are, Judge, I wish you well and please know that I so grateful for having worked beside a real “pro.” You were kind, gratuitous and (oh yea!) tenacious in the courtroom.
Tuesday, April 30, 2013
I' m behind the wheel. . do you like my hair? #Route66
When a law student asks for job search strategies for getting a job or internship, I usually say that the one thing that should NOT be done (for sure!) is to send out a “one size fits all” cover letter. Well, if I may step up to the confessional and kneel. . . I would tell you that I did EXACTLY that when I was a rising 3L applying for a summer internship.
Midway during my 2L year, I decided that I wanted to intern with a United States Attorney’s Office – any U.S. Attorney’s office – anywhere! I did want a position in the Criminal Division, but if offered one in a Civil Division, I would have taken it in a heartbeat. So I did the unthinkable – I sent a generic cover letter to over 50 U.S. Attorneys’ Offices throughout the country (during the years that I went to law school, most law students at Georgetown Law didn’t even know what Career Services was (like me), so I sure that I am not offending anyone in that current office by this admission against interest). . .
. . Low and behold – I got two “bites.” The U.S Attorney’s Offices in Los Angeles AND San Diego were interested! Yes, the only two offices that were the least bit interested in me were both over 3,000 miles away from my apartment in Washington, D.C!
After final exams, I gathered up what passed for traveling money that I had (it would be called “loose change” today) and with some added financial assistance by my parents, I boarded an airplane and flew cross-country for the final ‘in person” rounds of interviews with both offices (San Diego first, and then I rented a car and drove up through Disneyland and into the Spring Street office of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles).. Two weeks later, I received the letter that I had already become accustomed to the – “You have such absolutely off the charts stellar credentials that we simply cannot believe it!!!. . BUT, unfortunately we are sorry to say that we can’t hire you.” – letter. However, a week later, my fortunes took an abrupt turn for the better as I received an acceptance letter for an summer internship with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles, CA. . Yes, indeed! . . off to lalaland!
I packed up my UN-air-conditioned Chevy Chevette (do they even make those things anymore?) and headed cross-country, arriving three and a half days later (having dropped off a colleague who was interning in Denver along the way). I was able to quickly sublet an apartment in San Monica from two guys who were sound engineers for the motion picture industry. One looked like Charles Manson and the other a young Michael Chang (probably Warner Brother guys) . Sorry Michael ( @changesq. ). but you know I care!)
I’ll share one trial experience that I had during this summer internship in Part II. For now, keep in mind that there are no strict rules that work for everyone in their search for summer and/or fall internships. While I STILL DON’T recommend “blasting” out generic cover letters, I do appreciate that all law students need to “think out of the box” and figure out for themselves new and innovative strategies to go out and get internships. Don’t just stare into your Symplicity screen and sigh because there is nothing available.
WATCH OUT FOR PART II OF MY L.A. INTERNSHIP: . . . .BAG MEN, DEFENDANTS CRYING ON THE WITNESS STAND. . It will be better than an episode of “The Good Wife!”