August, already?! Summer is wrapping up, my judicial externship ends this week, and I will soon make my way back to the East Coast. This summer began in a whirlwind — finishing finals and writing competition, moving to Chicago, and starting a new job. Just like that: 1L ride was over, a new eL ride began.
On Memorial Day, I moved into an apartment in the Streeterville neighborhood of Chicago. I sublet from a friend who I used to work with as a paralegal — she just finished her first year at Northwestern Law. It felt like home from the get-go, as she left the place equipped with textbooks, hornbooks, post-its, and such. Although I had spent a lot of time in Chicago as an undergraduate at Northwestern and growing up in the Midwest, I had never actually lived in the city. Chicago reminded me of Boston in a lot of ways — Wrigley was like Fenway, though the fans had much less to brag about; I ran on Lake Michigan in lieu of the Charles River; and the weather was equally as volatile!
I began work immediately at the Dirksen Courthouse — in the loop on Dearborn & Adams. (This is also the location of the famous parade scene in the movie “Ferris Buehller’s Day Off,” for those of you unfamiliar with Chicago.) We were invited to eat in Judge’s chambers, which was a great way to get to know the other externs, clerks, and the Judge, too. Quite fittingly, and at the Judge’s request, we ate Chicago-style pizza. Over lunch, the clerks explained that the summer externship consisted of two components: observation and writing. First and foremost, we would help draft two legal memoranda, which would require extensive research and editing. But, we would also be encouraged to sit in on status hearings, sentencings, and settlement conferences. Both proved to be invaluable in their own right.
I will begin with the writing component. While I had practiced legal writing through the course at BU, these tasks were so much more flavorful — not only because the facts, parties, issues were real, but because I had the chance to use concepts I learned in my first year. For my first assignment, a 1983 case, I had to research various immunities. My constitutional law hornbook and outline actually came in handy! My second assignment involved a breach of contract. Thankfully, I did not have to pull up my class notes on the exchange of cows, as the issue at this stage was narrowed to pleading. Instead, I used Rules 8 and 12 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and Twombly and Iqbal, cases we discussed in Civil Procedure. While drafting these memos was useful in a practical sense, after a grueling 1L year, it was very important for me to see the fruits of my labor. I was happy to put my legal education to use, and I am excited to see where the practice of law takes me.
As for the observation component, Judge Castillo made sure that his externs saw every type of legal proceeding (both in and out of his chambers). After each proceeding, the Judge gave us the opportunity to ask questions. This allowed me to navigate the adjudicative process, observe lawyering techniques, and understand negotiation tactics. Personally, and bittersweetly, sentencing hearings were my favorite. This is arguably the toughest job of a judge. Judge Castillo helped author the Federal Sentencing Guidelines and served on the U.S. Sentencing Commission, so he takes this role very seriously. I found the entirety of the balancing process to be very interesting — from beginning (rights of convicted persons) to end (considerations of specific and general deterrence and restitution to harmed parties).
Furthermore, I extended my observation to other courtrooms. I saw a number trials in federal court, spent a day at the Daley Center watching Illinois State Court, and made sure to find Judge Posner sitting en banc in the 7th Circuit. Outside of formal observation, the externs attended lunches and panels in order to meet and get to know other federal judges. Best of all, I had the chance to meet Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor when she came to town to throw the first pitch at the Yankees-Cubs game. She was kind enough to sign my pocket-sized copy of the Constitution, which I’ve had since high school! She wrote: “I hope this inspires you the way it has me.”
Moreover, outside of the courthouse, I was able to become an active participant in the greater Chicago legal community. For example, I attended ABA-sponsored events, took advantage of the Illinois Women’s Bar, and ran the “Race Judicata” 5k fundraiser for Chicago Legal Services. To boot, I was able to enjoy Chicago’s various street festivals, swim in Lake Michigan, and catch up with college friends. All in all, it was an incredible summer!