My Summer in Federal Court

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By: Taylor Phelps ’24

This summer I was fortunate to intern at the Robert H. Jackson United States Courthouse for The Hon. John L. Sinatra, Jr., United States District Judge for the Western District of New York.  I sat right in the judge’s chambers, which allowed me to ask the law clerks and the judge questions throughout the day. Working in the court exposed me to the various practice areas of law, as the law clerks gave me many different assignments throughout the summer.

One of the best parts of my summer experience was hearing the reasoning behind some of the judge’s decisions. Before the judge would take the bench, he would stop by the library to give a rundown of the case. After the judge heard oral arguments and made his decision, he would return to the library to explain why he made the decision and what parts of the parties’ arguments factored into it. I really enjoyed the full process of researching a case, learning the judge’s perspective before the oral arguments were made, and seeing how the arguments may have shifted or solidified the judge’s decision.

My fellow interns and I were able to research the upcoming cases, and we would make a schedule for the day depending on which judges had court appearances. Being able to observe the many different skilled attorneys from public and private practices was great. I learned what to do and what not to do in federal court. We were able to observe some highly publicized court appearances, while also learning the ins and outs of the federal court process.

One thing that really struck me was the law clerks’ and judges’ willingness to teach us. The law clerks were always willing to help when we had questions, either about an assignment or even about the job search process. All the judges would pull us aside after court and discuss the law, or even how the federal courthouse was built. Sometimes the judges would just want to say hello and catch up after court. Being able to discuss the law with a federal judge was an incredible experience that I will never forget!

Drafting an opinion was also a unique experience. Each intern was given a social security case to work on throughout the summer. We all had access to the docket and had access to research materials during the drafting process. We were each paired up with a law clerk in the chambers.  This was a wonderful way to get one-on-one guidance while drafting our opinions. The feedback we received from the law clerks and the judge was invaluable, as we learned how to write for a judge while also putting to use what we learned in Legal Analysis, Writing and Research (LAWR).

Words cannot express the amount of gratitude I feel for my experience this summer! I want to thank the University at Buffalo School of Law Summer Public Interest Funding and Fellowship Program and Francis M. and Cindy Abbott Letro. Without their generosity, I would not have been able to have this amazing opportunity. I also would like to thank Judge Sinatra, Kristen Flick, Christine Gibbons, Julian Sharp, Kirstie Henry, and Bonnie Weber for my summer experience. They made the courthouse a welcoming learning environment, and I cannot thank them enough! I have learned so many valuable lessons this summer and had a lot of fun, too!

Name: Taylor Phelps ’24

Name of Fellowship: School of Law Public Interest Fellowship

Placement: United States District Court for the Western District of New York, The Hon. John L. Sinatra, Jr.

Location: Buffalo, NY

One important lesson I have learned from this fellowship: “Being able to discuss the law with a federal judge was an incredible experience that I will never forget!”