Susan Zuiderveen is a third-year Cooley student serving on an externship. This is the eighth post in Susan’s outstanding series.
As my externship is coming to an end, I am very sad and I am also amazed. I am sad because I have met so many wonderful people that I have enjoyed working with and will miss seeing every week. I am also sad because I have enjoyed being in the criminal court system. It was wonderful to spend time in the environment in which I hope to work after graduation. It confirmed that I definitely want to be in the criminal court system as a prosecutor, and it only made me more excited to get started in my new career.
I am also amazed at how much I have learned. I set three goals for myself at the beginning of the externship, hoping to achieve some knowledge in each area. The first goal I set was to observe different attorneys to learn skills of effective persuasion in a trial. In my externship, I have seen several attorneys in many different types of trials including civil and criminal. I was also able to observe five different prosecuting attorneys in different trials. It was a wonderful opportunity to see so many different styles and skills of all of the attorneys. Not only did I learn skills of effective persuasion, I realized that effective skills come in many different styles and personalities. Each attorney had their own unique way of arguing and persuading, and I was able to observe many different approaches.
The second goal I set was to gain a basic understanding of the court documents and the paper flow in the court system. By digging into the files and doing my research project, I became more famililar with the paperwork and the filing system used. But I also learned the human side of the paper process. I delivered current court documents to staff during the day as as they were needed. This allowed me to get to know all the individuals and their roles in the paper flow. There are so many people involved, each playing a crucial role. I gained an appreciation for the number of people it takes to process and file all of the many documents into the correct files.
My last goal was simply to meet people in the criminal court system. When I first set this goal, I only thought of it in terms of the people that work in the courthouse every day. I never imagined that I would meet so many different people in so many different roles in the court system. Not only did I get the opportunity to know the judge I am working for and her staff, but I also met and got to know the other three judges and their staffs as well. I spent time with sheriff deputies, parole officers, attorneys, and court clerks. There are so many people involved in the court system, and it was wonderful gaining an appreciation for the different roles that are needed to make the system work.
Looking back I am truly amazed at how much I have learned in such a short time in my externship. This externship exceeded all my expectations and goals and made me feel more confident and more excited than ever to graduate and start my career. Even though I am sad that my time at the courthouse is ending soon, I don’t feel like it is ending forever. I feel more like it is just being put on hold for a few months until I can return!
Susan Zuiderveen is a third-year Cooley student serving on an externship. This is the seventh post in Susan’s outstanding series.
We have all heard how hard it will be to get a job in the legal field once we graduate. As I am getting closer to graduation, it is now starting to worry me. We work so hard to obtain our legal education and skills that it would be disappointing not to find the position we have our hearts set on.
Many times our professors and mentors have told us how important networking is in obtaining that first position. I always knew it was important, but I have not had the time to dedicate to networking like I need to. My externship has given me the chance to network with others working directly in the legal field. I have been amazed at the wonderful people I have met and how willing they are to help in any way they can. Not only have I met four wonderful judges, but I have met prosecuting attorneys, criminal defense attorneys, probation officers, sheriff deputies, and law clerks. All have helped me with anything I have needed while working at my externship, but so many have also given me great advice and names of people they know that may help me get a position as a prosecuting attorney. Our county does not have any open positions at this time, but it is wonderful having them for a reference if one does open up or if there is a position in one of the surrounding counties. I have also had the chance to meet and talk to several attorneys from different firms. Some I have seen on a weekly basis, and I know I could call them for questions or advice after graduation.
I underestimated how important an externship can be in helping achieve that first position. Plan to do your externship in the city you want to work in, and use it to help establish a network of people you can call for advice or who may hire you. I was amazed at how happy people are to help those of us entering the field they know and love. Don’t underestimate the opportunites your externship can provide in bettering the odds of getting that first position we are all working so hard for!
Susan Zuiderveen is a third-year Cooley student serving on an externship. This is the sixth post in Susan’s outstanding series.
Recently I was able to attend 17 sentencing hearings. As I watched, I realized how difficult it can be for judges to make decisions and how their decisions affect so many lives in such a dramatic way. Before our day started, the Judge shared the sentencing reports she reviewed over the weekend to prepare for Monday’s busy schedule. As I read through them I was amazed at how many of the people had several past felonies and at how young so many of the people were. Three young men were between the ages of 15 and 17 years old. Most had not graduated from high school. Some had violated parole and were coming in for sentencing because of their violations, and some were receiving their sentences after their trials. I read through their files trying to understand what their backgrounds were and what was going on in their lives. Some were involved in gangs and dealing drugs, and others had committed violent acts. Most were repeat offenders. The Judge walked me through her thinking about the sentencing and what affected her decision regarding each sentence and the guidelines that applied. What an incredible learning opportunity!
As the defendants came before the Judge, she did her best to stress the importance of education for those receiving parole or drug education sentences. She tried to stress the importance of turning their lives around so they would not appear in front of her again. Most just said, “Yes Ma’am” and hung their heads. Some of the people sentenced were brought in wearing the orange jump suit and handcuffs with several sheriff deputies standing guard. Some asked through tears for lesser sentences; others smiled when they received less than they expected. It was definitely an emotional day for all involved.
But what really touched me that day is that it was also a tough day for the Judge. She listened intently to the defendants when they were given time to speak to her before they were sentenced. They talked about how they had jobs they didn’t want to lose and that they had children they wanted to see. For those who committed non-violent crimes or those who didn’t have as many repeat offenses, you could see the Judge thinking through all the information thoughtfully before she sentenced them. The Judge seemed to have a harder time with these defendants. It was definitely easier to sentence those defendants with the more violent histories or those who had several felonies on their record. When we got back into the Judge’s chambers, I could tell she was exhausted and emotionally drained.
I am fortunate to have been allowed to participate in a part of the Judge’s job that I would not have had the opportunity to experience without this externship. By allowing me into her thought process both before and after sentencing, I gained a tremendous respect and appreciation for the difficult decisions judges must make. I also learned that even for someone who has been a judge for a number of years, it isn’t easy making decisions that affect another human being’s life in such a dramatic way.
Susan Zuiderveen is a third-year Cooley student serving on an externship. This is the fifth post in Susan’s series.
I just finished observing my first murder trial. I was very excited and looking forward to seeing the trial and learning everything I could. I expected to fill my notebook with all the things I didn’t know or things to research. I did take notes on the great questions asked and the different styles I observed from the two attorneys. But the most exciting thing I took away was that I already know how to do so much of what I observed in the trial.
The trial was complicated with many players involved and many witnesses called to testify. When there were witnesses that didn’t remember details from six months ago, the prosecutor when through the process of refreshing their memory. It was the exact process I learned and practiced in my trial skills class.
There were also several pieces of evidence that were admitted in this trial. I watched intently as the attorneys laid the foundation for each piece and admitted them as evidence for the jury to consider. Again, both parts of a trial I have practiced repeatedly in my trial skills class. Even when I watched the attorneys move the podium to face the jury during their opening and closing arguments and then move it back when a witness was testifying, I wrote down “attorneys moved the podium like I learned in class.”
I went into the trial expecting to write down everything I didn’t know. But instead, I walked out at the end with the confidence that I already know how to do so many aspects of a trial, even a complicated murder trial. I encourage everyone to sit in a courtroom and watch trials you may be interested in. You will be amazed at how much you have learned and how confident and well prepared you will feel!
Susan Zuiderveen is a third-year Cooley student serving on an externship. This is the fourth post in Susan’s series.
Now that I am several weeks into my externship, I have one regret. I regret that I was not able to spend more hours per week at my externship. Because I am a non-traditional student and I work full time outside of school, I was not able to take off more than twelve hours a week from my job to be at the courthouse with my field supervisor. I wanted to write this to encourage everyone to plan in advance and dedicate as much time as you possibly can to do an externship.
The time I have spent at the courthouse has been invaluable. I have been able to observe all parts of a criminal and civil trial and I have learned an incredible amount. However, I have not been able to view anything start to finish because I am only there part-time. By viewing different trials in small sections I am missing out on a key learning opportunity. Trials are stories, and how the attorneys tell the entire story to the jury is so important. By only seeing small portions it is as if you are seeing small sections of several movies none of which are intertwined. How the attorneys tell the story and intertwine all the facts is such an important skill to observe. This can only be accomplished when you are able to watch the entire story. I believe this is relevant for all types of externships, not just one in the criminal courts. Seeing the story play out from start to finish is a valuable experience for any law student, and it allows a better understanding of the entire process.
My externship is definitely one of the highlights of my legal education, and I encourage everyone to take full advantage of doing one in your area of interest. I also want to help others avoid having the same regret I do!
Susan Zuiderveen is a third-year Cooley student serving on an externship. This is the third post in Susan’s series.
Because I would like to develop more confidence and knowledge regarding court documents, I made learning about court paperwork and the paper process one of the goals to work towards in my externship. My field supervisor and I worked to put together a research project that will help me accomplish this goal. The project requires me to pull files and extrapolate specific information that would be helpful to her regarding what issues were appealed into a report. This project allows me to search for the files in their system, work on their computer system and work through the documents to find the information. This has been a great way to become more familiar with the paper process in many aspects. This project is also helping me become more acquainted with documents from the Michigan Court of Appeals and the Michigan Supreme Court as well.
An externship is a great place to try to develop knowledge in the areas you feel the least competent and knowledgeable about before actually working with clients as an attorney. I felt uncomfortable choosing an area I knew the least about and then asking my field supervisor to give me a project in this area. I was afraid that my lack of knowledge would make me look incompetent in her eyes if I had to ask questions on how to or where to find information. But the best way to learn is to jump in and do it. This type of project is exactly what I need to accomplish my goal and feel more confident. Everyone has been very helpful, and I was surprised to discover how much I really do know and how prepared I was for this type of research!
Susan Zuiderveen is a third-year Cooley student serving on an externship. This is the second post in a series she is writing.
Today I was able to observe voir dire for a civil case. It was a great learning experience. As the attorneys asked the questions, I tried to understand why they asked what they did and how the answers helped the attorneys decide whether or not to keep the juror on the panel. Voir dire is a process of trying to understand how the juror’s life experiences and innermost thoughts on issues may affect how they view the issues in the case. It is easy to see why there are companies that specialize in jury selection. Voir dire is a complex process of trying to ensure a fair jury to both the plaintiff and the defendant while trying to retain those jurors that most likely would be favorable to your client. Jury selection is certainly an important aspect of planning your case that requires research and thought. This is definitely an area I would like to learn more about.
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.