Catie McLaughlin is a third-year Cooley student on externship with a law firm this term. She keeps a journal of her experiences. In this post, Catie notes an important way her externship has changed her.
During law school, I was always very confident. I always spoke up in class and I always got good grades. I was very outgoing and competitive. The very first day of the externship, I was scared out of my mind – I didn’t want to be a bother, I didn’t want to be annoying, I didn’t want to ask too many questions. When I got to the externship, I felt like my demeanor immediately changed. I became meek, self-conscious, and I started to question the quality of my work – something I never did before.
I have noticed since the beginning of the externship that I have become much more assertive when it comes to asking questions and making comments to other attorneys. It’s almost like I went back to how I was before the externship. Before, I cared so much what everyone thought about me – whether they thought I was stupid, or my idea was silly, or my comment was irrelevant. Now, after I have had several repeat assignments from the same attorney and a lot of “good jobs,” I feel like my confidence has come back.
Thus far, I have learned that a lawyer is much, much more than a law student who got good grades. A lawyer has to be sensitive to the needs of the client and the needs of the opposition. A lawyer needs to be creative. A lawyer has to be able to put herself in the shoes of others. A lawyer has to have perspective – not just hers, but must be able to look at the perspectives of others. To be all of these things, an attorney has to speak up and not be so afraid of what others think. At the end, I’m glad I did because I am getting much more out of the experience than had I kept my mouth shut.
I’m a partner with the Florida firm of Christmas Spano & Owen, P.A. Over the last few years, we have been pleased to have four Cooley externs working with us, three of whom we’ve been able to extend job offers to. We’ve been impressed, to say the least, at the practical knowledge and work ethic Cooley externs have demonstrated. Cooley does an excellent job of preparing its students for the actual practice of law, as opposed to solely focusing on legal theories and concepts. Cooley students are ready to “hit the ground running,” which is exactly what we need. We’re excited about Cooley’s new campus in Central Florida, and we look forward to having many more Cooley externs join our team!
V. Ross Spano, Riverview, Florida
Here are the wonderful things that Lloyd E. Powell, the Public Defender of Washtenaw County, Michigan, says about Cooley students and the experience they receive as interns with his office:
Upwards of 85% of all criminal and juvenile cases both nationally and locally involve indigent defendants to some degree. Most of those cases are handled by public defenders as a mandated constitutional requirement.
Consistent with that requirement, the 40 year-old Office of Public Defender (http://publicdefender.ewashtenaw.org) regularly handles the overwhelming majority of all criminal and juvenile cases throughout Washtenaw Count. We are the first choice for appointment by the courts. Naturally, our Washtenaw County Prosecutor (or a village, township, or city attorney) is always our adversary in the courtroom as we all seek collaboratively to ferret out the truth accurately in pursuit of justice.
Due in part to our heavy caseload, veteran Cooley law professor Norm Fell and I collaborated many years ago to establish a very special “Trial Lawyer Practical Experience Program” in which Cooley Law School students intern with us as student trial lawyers. Over the ensuing years, hundreds of outstanding Cooley interns have provided invaluable assistance to our dedicated staff of 15 veteran public defenders. Cooley students are fully integrated extensions of our staff lawyers, functioning as:
- student trial lawyers
- skilled researchers and
- invaluable teachers and trainers of other incoming volunteers.
As student trial lawyers, Cooley students actively participate in
- sentencing hearings
- probation violations
- personal protection orders
- Friend of the Court matters
- bond reduction hearings and
Our program gives Cooley students the great opportunity to:
- interview, counsel, and represent indigent defendants
- engage in the practice of law under the supervision of experienced attorneys
- appear in court frequently
- work with a highly skilled group of attorneys who have been trained to be outstanding supervisors and mentors
- polish public speaking skills
- work in a collegial, cooperative atmosphere with other students
- apply the legal theories learned in the classroom to real cases with live clients and
- engage in negotiations and conversations with prosecuting attorneys in the community.
Cooley interns also participate actively in a wide array of investigative research and studies. Those activities encompass:
- the adequate and accurate recording of events, codes, and data in case files and computers for important appeals where appropriate
- timely determination of conflicts of interests
- assessing the reliability and accuracy of related identifications
- sequential memorializing of events and procedures related thereto
- improvement of the use of information technology to enhance quality and cost effectiveness
- accurate recording of interviews of clients and witnesses
- analyses of police reports
- productive visits to crime scenes to gather available facts
- informed counseling to clients for a more realistic evaluation of their cases and
- determination of alternative case dispositions that include the availability of alcohol and drug abuse therapy, educational opportunities, and the resolution of family problems.
Cooley student interns and externs over the years have been signally outstanding. That is why we always look forward to assisting them with excellent recommendations and to actually hiring them as permanent members of our staff whenever there is an opportunity to do so.
Lloyd E. Powell
Washtenaw County Public Defender