Susan Zuiderveen is a third-year Cooley student serving on an externship. This is the first of a series of posts from Susan.
I recently had the first day of my law school externship. It was a day I have been looking forward to since I started law school. Finally, I would get the opportunity to see the skills I’ve been learning in class utilized in the courtroom. I was nervous and excited: nervous because I felt like I didn’t know enough to be helpful and excited to finally be engulfed in the criminal court system.
When I arrived, I had a brief orientation and then I jumped right into the busy day already underway. I was able to observe several bench warrant trials and personal protection order hearings within the first few hours I was there.
Learning about a case in a book cannot prepare you for the live event of a trial or hearing. Even though I’ve read many criminal cases in my trial skills and criminal law courses, nothing prepares you for how you feel sitting in the same courtroom with someone in chains while sheriffs stand guard. Being able to look into someone’s eyes and hear them answer to the serious charges against them was an intense reminder that cases are about people, not just words on a page in a law book. I knew that before starting this externship, but today I felt it for the first time.
Law school and externships prepare us to work with people, often at the most desperate times of their lives. It would be easy over time to become calloused and think in terms of cases and not people, but I will always try to remember how I felt the first time observing a trial.