By Jeremy Trudell
Before coming to law school, I worked as a legal assistant at an insurance defense firm. I knew that during law school, I wanted to explore different areas of practice. I’ve clerked in both the public and private sector, doing both criminal and civil work. But there was one job that I always thought would be interesting: clerking for a judge.
This March, the private firm I clerked for laid me off due to Covid-19. Fortunately, I reached out to the Career Cervices Office (CSO) at University at Buffalo School of Law, and they presented me with information about a summer internship with the 8th Judicial District of the New York State Unified Court. It was the perfect opportunity to fulfill my desire to clerk for a judge. I applied for the internship and for financial support through a law school fellowship. Following an interview, and offer, I accepted a position in the Commercial Division. The Commercial Division exclusively handles business related disputes that exceed a certain monetary threshold, including breach of contract, breach of duty, UCC claims, business dissolutions, and others.
It is my pleasure to intern for Justice Emilio Colaiacovo and his chambers this summer. Despite the internship proceeding remotely, it has been a very informative and beneficial experience. I have observed virtual oral arguments, read party briefs, conducted legal research, drafted correspondence, and drafted bench memorandums. I have also attended virtual lectures and virtual check-in meetings hosted by the Court. The lectures cover a wide range of topics including decision writing, ADR, the history of the Court, a tour of the Erie County law library, and jury selection. There are also optional presentations hosted by the Volunteer Lawyers Project.
Additionally, I was fortunate to receive a stipend provided by the Dean’s Judicial Fellowship Award through the University at Buffalo School of Law’s Summer Fellowship Program. I am thankful to the University and Dean Abramovsky for their generosity and support for the Buffalo community.
To pay it forward, I would like to provide some tips to anyone who is thinking about clerking for a judge, based on my experience. They are as follows:
- Utilize Analytics. When I found out that I was assigned to work for Justice Colaiacovo, I wanted to find out about his background, judicial philosophy, and his caseload. Lexis Advance(provided to all UB law students for free) has a Context search bar where you can research a judge’s background, composition of cases, and other useful information. Knowing this information allows you to familiarize yourself with areas of law that your judge adjudicates, and gives you talking points for your first conversation. You can also research decisions published by your judge by utilizing the “Documents” tab. Reviewing decisions published by your judge identifies how he or she articulates certain rules, and may answer the question that you are researching.
- Get Organized. As a legal intern, you will need to organize your time, just like you do as a law student. At the beginning of the internship, you will receive a list of dates and times for various lectures and meetings. It is important that your judge knows about those obligations in order to schedule your work around them.
You will also need to organize your work. When you receive an assignment, it is important to:
- Understand the issue(s) that you will research;
- Ask the Judge whether they prefer a formal bench memorandum or informal email (here is a link to a great overview of a trial court bench memorandum function and format);
- Know the due date;
- Keep a research log for cases;
- Organize your point headings into an outline, and fill in the details;
- Complete a first draft of the memorandum;
- Organize legally significant facts in chronological order;
- Summarize the contentions of each party;
- Apply the law to the facts;
- Make a recommendation on what the court should do; and
- Give yourself at least a day to revise your draft before you submit it.
For anyone who, like myself, wants to improve their legal writing, some great books on the subject include Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges by Bryan A. Garner and Antonin Scalia, and Legal Writing in Plain English by Bryan A. Garner.
- Familiarize Yourself with Electronic Court Systems. If you ever need to find a case name or a matter coming up on a judge’s docket, you can utilize WebCivil Supreme through New York’s E-Courts system. Simple click on “Justice Search” and enter your judge’s name. You can filter the search results to a specific range of dates and find out what matters are on the judge’s schedule.
Another tool to utilize as a legal intern is NYS Courts Electronic Filing (NYSCEF). This platform is useful to view documents that were electronically filed with the County Clerk. You will be able to view .pdf files of any document filed in 2014 –when electronic filing became mandatory in Erie County- through the present. This is especially helpful when viewing motions, exhibits, or pleadings.
- Trust the process. Sean McDermott-ism aside, working for a judge can be intimidating. First, you want to establish that you are a capable and intelligent intern. Second, you want a good rapport with the judge because you may be appearing before him or her in the future, and because you want a good letter of recommendation. Third, you are responsible for helping the judge get past the advocacy contained in briefs so that he or she can objectively apply the law to the facts. Finally, you want to make sure you provide your judge with enough information so he or she does not get overturned on appeal.
Despite all of the pressures, law school has prepared you to research issues, identify rules through indicative or deductive reasoning, analyze fact patterns, and articulate conclusions. That process prepares you to tackle any assignment you get from your judge. For instance, during my internship I was asked to research a topic that I had no familiarity with. I tried to find cases on the subject but could not find any. Rather than getting worried, I employed skills I learned in school. Those included viewing the practice commentary of the annotated statute, reading the legislative history, viewing other sections of the statute, and finding cases that implicitly discussed the issue. I emailed my analysis to the Judge. A week later, he sent me a copy of his decision and order. I was surprised to see he incorporated my exact analysis into it.
In conclusion, if anyone is considering whether they should clerk for a judge but is on the fence about it, I would say apply for the position. Learning how a judge writes and analyzes issues is valuable no matter where your career takes you. Justice Colaiacovo and his staff have been very approachable, informative and reassuring with all of the assignments I’ve received. He also expresses gratitude for my help. It is a great environment to learn about the substantive and procedural aspects of law.
Name: Jeremy D. Trudell
Name of Fellowship: Dean’s Judicial Fellowship Award
Location of Internship: 8th Judicial District Commercial Division with Hon. Emilio Colaiacovo, J.S.C.
Location: Depew, New York
One important lesson I learned from this fellowship is: Any time you make a representation to the Court, make sure you have something in the record to back it up.