Interning in a Justice Court

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By Jamie Englerth, ‘23

When I began my search for an internship this summer, I knew I wanted to work in public interest. I have always been passionate about representing those who have experienced harm or wrongdoing in our community and whose voices are often lost in our justice system. I applied to many internships for the summer, hoping that after my first year at the University at Buffalo School of Law, I would be able to continue to grow my legal skills and practice knowledge. After submitting applications and sitting for interviews, I was offered a position at the Erie County District Attorney’s Office. After talking to my mentor and some teachers, I knew the District Attorney’s Office would be an excellent fit for me. 

Before starting my internship at the Erie County District Attorney’s Office, I was unsure what this summer would entail. We were still navigating around the limits of the pandemic, which meant I did not know if I would see the inside of a courtroom this summer. When I received the email that I was placed in Cheektowaga Justice Court, I was unsure how I felt. I had never worked in a Town Court before. I had worked in two prior District Attorney’s Offices, both of which entailed very different experiences. Would the Justice Court be busy? Would I be able to be in person? Would I learn new ways to approach practice?

To say the least, all of my worries were settled, and my expectations were met after my first day. I was lucky enough to be placed in Cheektowaga as they were one of the first Town Courts open due to how busy it is. Not only was I able to be working in person, but I was also placed with two great Assistant District Attorneys, Kevin Brown and Brigitte Cellino. From day one, they were both ready to teach me the ropes and help me learn as much as I could over this summer. This past spring, I had taken Criminal Law so I felt I was ready to take on the world of criminal courts. I had the knowledge, but now it was time to start learning how to use this knowledge. 

Each day I went to work at my internship, there was always something new to see and learn. There was never a day like the last. Some days I came in, and a supposed foreign diplomat was yelling at one of my supervisors, the next, we were getting spit on, and another we saw a woman passing out after being sentenced. To say the least, Cheektowaga was exciting and a great way for me to learn what practice is really like. My placement gave me the freedom to learn while also providing guidance whenever I needed it. From this internship, I was able to learn important lawyering skills like how to fill out arraignment paperwork, how to fill out plea deal slips, how to notice officers into court, how to send discovery, how to request certain materials under the rules, how to request background checks, how to request birth certificates, how to request orders of protection, and how to run a felony hearing.

Throughout our first year of law school, we are taught what the law is, what it means, and how to apply it for exams. What we are not taught and what some may never learn throughout their three years is how the law works in the real world rather than how we are taught. We can read as many casebooks and as many statutes as we’d like, but actually practicing law is not the same at the end of the day. I can remember talking to my supervisors, and they even said that nothing prepares you besides actually doing the work in this career. Often you are thrown in a courtroom with a case and expected to run with it. 

Because of this internship, I will not feel the stress many may face on their first day because I have been working alongside expert practitioners this summer. They took the time to help me learn the ropes in hopes of making me as prepared as possible for when I become an attorney. For any incoming 1Ls or 2Ls, if you have the opportunity to work in the Erie County District Attorney’s Office, I highly recommend it! And ask for Cheektowaga Justice Court!

Overall, I could not have asked for a better internship the summer of my 1L year. I was able to gain experience and knowledge most students do not get until they are in practice. None of this would have been possible if not for the fellowship I was awarded, with the financial support of Douglas W. and Grace D. Dimitroff. Without this fellowship, I would not have been able to pursue the internship that I wanted. I would have had to take an internship that was paid to pay for my living expenses or work less at an internship so that I could get a non-legal job. Because of the Dimitroffs, I was able to accept the position I truly wanted. Thank you does not begin to cover how grateful I am for them and the fellowship I was awarded. I hope to continue my work in public interest to keep giving back to the community as they did for me. 

Thank you Douglas W. and Grace D. Dimitroff! Thank you University at Buffalo Public Interest Fellowship Program! I sincerely appreciated this opportunity! 

Name: Jamie Englerth, ‘23

Name of Fellowship: Douglas W. & Grace D. Dimitroff Summer Fellowship Award

Placement: Erie County District Attorney’s Office 

Location: Buffalo, NY

One important lesson I have learned from this fellowship: “You can learn all about what the laws say, how to research it, and how they should be applied in situations – but the most important thing an attorney needs to know is how to practice in real life and put the background knowledge to work!”