My Experience as a Judicial Intern

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By Kristen M. Cascio ’23

I had the privilege of interning this summer in the chambers of the Honorable Julio M. Fuentes, Senior Judge for the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. Though this year’s internship was virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was a wonderful experience that packed a ton of learning into a relatively short time span. 

I worked under the guidance of Judge Fuentes’ law clerks on various writing assignments, including drafting sections of a bench memorandum, a nonprecedential opinion, and reviews of several precedential opinions. I also conducted legal research and verified citations. The clerks were incredibly bright and generous with their time. It was a special opportunity to get to learn from these talented individuals who possess such sophisticated analytical and writing abilities along with an impressive breadth of legal knowledge. 

Judicial law clerks must master a wide range of legal issues and areas of law because any Circuit Court’s docket is quite diverse. The various United States Courts of Appeals hear challenges to decisions made by district courts within their specific circuits, which includes both civil and criminal cases of almost any type. In the duration of just two short months, I helped with  cases regarding trademark infringement, immigration status, educational access by individuals with disabilities, employment rights, corporate bankruptcy, and capital crimes. In addition to the exposure to many different areas of law, the cases also contemplated numerous legal concepts and doctrines, some of which I had learned about in my 1L classes at the University at Buffalo School of Law, and several that were new to me.

It was rewarding to be able to put into practice some of what I have learned in law school. It felt like I had been building new muscles over the past year, and it was time to exercise them. During the internship, I utilized all the skills and knowledge gained from my Legal Analysis, Writing and Research (LAWR) classes. Issues pertaining to jurisdiction, standard of review, and preclusion had me referencing my civil procedure notes more than once. And, it was exciting when I recognized cases referenced in the parties’ briefs as ones that I had learned about in my doctrinal courses.

I was particularly fortunate that I was able to witness how one particular case proceeded pretty much from start to finish. Under the supervision of one of the law clerks, I was given the chance to provide initial draft language for sections of a bench memorandum. Then I got to (virtually) observe the case being argued before Judge Fuentes and two other judges on the panel and learn how they worked together to reach a decision and craft the resulting opinion. Seeing this case transcend the printed page and come to life as the appellate process unfolded was a special part of my internship experience. 

Through the internship, I also gained a deeper appreciation of the responsibility held by the judges, law clerks and attorneys in the U.S. Courts of Appeals. Since only a small percentage of cases make it to the Supreme Court, the U.S. Courts of Appeals often serve as the final arbiter in federal cases, and as such, wield a great deal of power and influence. These courts have the ability to set legal precedent, so not only does a decision impact the individual parties involved in a case, it also has the power to shape the law that governs everyone in the court’s geographic region. Those who serve and choose to shoulder this responsibility are dedicated, passionate, meticulous about their work and committed to upholding the highest professional and legal standards. It was an inspiring environment to be a part of, and it left me feeling motivated for next semester.

I am very grateful for the financial support provided by the Dean’s Judicial Summer Fellowship Award which made my participation possible. I would also like to express my appreciation to the University at Buffalo School of Law’s Summer Public Interest Funding & Fellowship Program and to UB’s Career Services Office. Finally, I owe a special thank you to the Honorable Julio M. Fuentes and his law clerks, Alex, Camila, Francesca, and Megan, for providing me with this opportunity and creating a memorable internship experience.

Name: Kristen Cascio ‘23

Name of Fellowship: Dean’s Judicial Summer Fellowship Award

Placement: Hon. Julio M. Fuentes, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

Location: Virtual (Usually in Newark, NJ)

One important lesson I have learned from this fellowship: “The best way to learn is by doing. With each new assignment, you learn a little more and you improve.”