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The Real Life Experiences Offered by Externships and Internships

By Lynn F. Mason

As a Western Michigan Cooley Law student, it is not generally known how many opportunities there are to explore and expand your professional options even prior to beginning your law school career. If you sit down and talk to any of your professors, they are very helpful and can steer you in the right direction because they have been where we are. So, I begin with one of the fairest and most prominent judges in Ingham County- the Honorable Judge Rosemarie Aquilina. She teaches at WMU Cooley Law School and Michigan State University College of Law. If you graduate from law school and did not take one of her classes, you have completely lost out and here’s why. 

Students can find law school daunting at times and, even though most of them love law school, they may often wonder why they are doing this and why they are torturing themselves with lack of sleep, break downs, and anxiety. Undoubtedly, you’ve heard of the freshman 15 (undergrad students tend to gain about 15 pounds their first year from eating too much junk food). Well, there is a 1L, maybe even a 2L and 3L 15. I’ve discovered this first hand because all I do is study, read, and write about the law. However, you have to find a balance and figure out if a law degree is really worth having. After all, acquiring a JD is very expensive. Although some law schools are more expensive than others, most cost at least $100,000. For me, I discovered my balance by being in the courtroom. Every law student should, at some point, just sit in on court proceedings whether it be family, criminal, or civil law. This is one of the greatest experiences any law student can have. 

This is where Judge Aquilina comes in. One of the Circuit Court prosecutors encouraged me to observe court proceedings and, of course, that is what I did. I found it to be extremely fascinating to see what I learned in law school applied to real life. I guess it’s true-“They don’t make this stuff up.” Real law was happening before my eyes.  Following that experience, I found myself corresponding with Judge Aquilina who invited me to be one of her law school interns on a voluntary basis. Although one may be turned off by working for free, if you haven’t noticed, in the real world, it’s not only what you know, but also who you know. This was an amazing opportunity and I would have been foolish to pass it up. Lo and behold, the Judge had a small number of externs, interns, and volunteers that wrote her memos while improving their legal writing skills. There was a mixture of MSU and Cooley students. We all got along very well and loved discussing the law.

Jax Kaminski, a rising 2L from MSU, was one summer intern. She expressed how the program improved her research and writing skills by having to write legal memos in their truest form. She said she gained a lot of exposure by interning at the Circuit Court and seeing the law at work.  We all talked about how much we learn numerous legal theories and read cases that are vital to the history of law and lawmakers in classes, but, to see it in action, allows the law to take on a whole new perspective by demonstrating how a courtroom works. Jax said that she also learned how to represent herself in a courtroom and we all joked about things not to do in the courtroom. Yet, it’s all about reputation and credibility.  The biggest lesson we learned was, as Judge Aquilina asks, “Where’s the evidence?” A good attorney never gets in front of a judge without good, solid evidence or, worse, no evidence at all. Yes, we saw it and it was not pretty.
Another rising 2L MSU student intern was VanDyke Kotorokh-Yiadum. Ironically, he said he had no intention to do any litigation when he first began law school, but, all of his experiences thus far, were pushing him in that direction.  In our discussions, he mentioned how being in Judge Aquilina’s courtroom inspired him to think outside the box. VanDyke said another humorous lesson learned as an intern was when Judge Aquilina told us to get rid of all black pens; never write in black ink only blue (although she likes purple as well) because it is hard to distinguish the original document from a copy when duplicates are made. The message was clear- law students trash those black pens especially if you are going to take family law!
Then, there was JoAnne Tomaszewski who also was a rising 2L at MSU. She stated her experience as an intern with Judge Aquilina was a positive one. She said one of the best things she witnessed was an improperly conducted police line-up that was presented in court.  Understandably, the Judge was not particularly pleased about the poorly conducted line-up. JoAnne stated this event allowed her to see how the Judge upholds the law and the balance she applies to defense attorneys, prosecutors and defendants.
All in all, my internship with Judge Aquilina was an amazing opportunity and she must be applauded for the chance she gives law students. She is a firm believer in helping one to succeed in law, is willing to answer any questions, discuss the law and statutes, and, of course, proper courtroom etiquette.