Forming an Opinion

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By: Beatrice Rule ’24

After one of the most challenging and rewarding years of my life as a 1L, I remember how nervous and excited I was to begin my summer internship with the Honorable Julio M. Fuentes at the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. As a first-year law student at the University at Buffalo School of Law, like everyone, I learned the basics. Like a toddler learning how to walk, some moments are fantastic and beautiful; most are awkward and imperfect. Though our Legal Analysis, Writing and Research professors work hard to ensure we know how to write a memorandum or argue our points in a brief, the world in which we operate as 1Ls is a safe one; our clients for which we work are fake.  Our research is thoughtfully guided by professors and writing fellows. We know that the consequences of our mistakes are limited only to the grades that we earn. Thus, the idea of judicial work was a bit nerve-wracking – suddenly there were real people on the other side of each legal document.

For the first few weeks of my internship, I was primarily tasked with writing PO reviews: summaries of the facts and legal reasoning of circulated precedential opinions. At first, I watched as the clerk that supervised me crafted eloquent summaries of legal issues in a fraction of the time I took. The clerks seemed to have this incredible wealth of knowledge about different areas of the law. Though I reminded myself that these clerks had far more experience than I did, I began to wonder whether I had missed some important class.

During the second week of my internship, the interns had the incredible opportunity to watch oral arguments in Philadelphia. Reading through the briefs for each case, I found myself swaying from one side to the other. Everyone’s arguments appeared to be so convincing. When we finally sat and listened, however, I found a glimmer of comfort and familiarity — awkwardness. Both old and young attorneys standing before the panel of judges had tense moments of pause. A quick “Um.” A shaky flipping of papers. While the arguments were excellent, and many of the attorneys handled the judges’ questions with grace and confidence, it was the humanity of it all that I found most exciting.

As the summer went on, I knew that I would be asked to draft a nonprecedential opinion. Similar in many ways to a memorandum, but quite different in others, it’s a skill we are never explicitly taught our first year. When I received the briefs for the opinion I was set to write, I knew that before beginning I would have to form my own opinion on the issue. This too, was an unfamiliar skill. Rather than simply reading through the briefs as I had before the oral arguments, I focused instead on the speaker and what they were trying to tell me. The process was slow and intentional. I looked to what each side was citing, how much they were citing, and the impact of each argument. When I was finally done, I conferred with my supervisor and she asked what I thought. I felt a wave of relief as my tentative assertions about the legal issue were confirmed by her own conclusions.

Researching, writing, and researching even more, I realized that a big hang-up faced by people throughout their legal career is not always a lack of knowledge but a lack of confidence. After all, Judge Fuentes and his clerks were tasked with writing reviews of legal issues that could be extremely complex. Such opinions were formed not from a stroke of legal genius, but from a thorough review of relevant precedent coupled with confidence and trust in one’s ability to do the research and come to a conclusion. The tools are always available, you just have to have confidence in your ability to use them.

Though my draft opinion eventually came back in need of editing, the whole process was an incredible exercise not only for developing my research and writing skills, but also for building confidence. I was thankful to the clerk for providing that extra guidance and support needed, and to help answer any questions I had. Ultimately the draft opinion, just like my drafts in my 1L writing class, contained mistakes that only aided in making my writing stronger. As summer interns, we have an invaluable opportunity to learn from our mistakes and build confidence for the future, and I am happy to say that my time at the Third Circuit did just that.

I want to thank Francis M. and Cindy Abbott Letro for their generosity in funding my UB Law School Public Interest Fellowship. Without their support, my summer work experience would not have been possible.

Name: Beatrice Rule ’24                                                              

Name of Fellowship: Francis M. Letro ’79 & Cindy Abbott Letro Fellowship

Placement: United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

Location: Newark, NJ

One important lesson I have learned from this fellowship: “I realized that a big hang-up faced by people throughout their legal career is not always a lack of knowledge but a lack of confidence…The tools are always available, you just have to have confidence in your ability to use them.”