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Judicial Externships offer real-world insight into the judicial process

Judge Ann Aiken '79 continues to help broaden program

Every semester, the University of Oregon School of Law offers both State and Federal judicial externships. These externships give students the opportunity to step outside of the law school and into the real world of the judicial process. Although the externships provide great education and benefits, the judicial externship program would be neither strong nor thriving without the help and dedication of Oregon Law alumni.

A judicial externship is a behind-the-scenes look into the courtroom. Students have the opportunity to learn outside of the classroom walls and obtain real-world experience in how court systems work by following judges through the judicial process.

Judge Ann Aiken

Judge Ann Aiken ’79 at Oregon Law’s 2012 Commencement Ceremony

In early 2000, the American Bar Association broadened its definition of acceptable externship offerings. It was also at this time when Chief Judge Ann Aiken, U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon, intersected with judicial externships. Judge Aiken, a 1979 Oregon Law alumna, is deeply invested in the professional success of Oregon Law students. For years, Judge Aiken has been one of the primary influencers of Oregon Law judicial externships.

The skills gained in an externship are “unparalleled and cannot be duplicated in the classroom,” explained Jolie Russo, permanent Portland Clerk for Oregon Federal District Judge Ann Aiken and Oregon Law Adjunct Instructor. Recent Oregon Law graduate and former State and Federal extern Amy Brewer ’12 elaborated that while Oregon Law has taught her the importance of clear and concise writing and oral advocacy, her externships “reinforced the necessity of those skills.”

Among the many opportunities that judicial externships hold, a major perk is the opportunity to peak behind the curtain and interact with juries. This experience gives externs insight into the procedure and process outlined by the judge. The opportunity to see the juries and judge at work together is an open door that shuts once graduates become practicing attorneys.

Besides learning about the judicial process, externs learn how courts operate and how cases can be interpreted differently. Through observing and interacting with judges, externs learn what is or is not effective in court. Additionally, externs observe numerous lawyers presenting cases and how differently each lawyer operates and approaches cases. Not only does this experience clarify the different sides of how a case is presented or argued, but also the perspectives of good and bad lawyering.

One thing that cannot be taught easily in the classroom is professionalism. Externs quickly learn about professionalism as well as the culture and conduct of the court. Moreover, externs get good insight into the life of a judge both inside and outside of the courtroom. “Watching [Judge Marilyn Litzenberger and Chief Judge Ann Aiken] balance career and family has proven to me that it can be done,” said Brewer.

There are numerous benefits to completing an externship. Beyond the direct experiences in the courtroom, externships present incredible networking opportunities. “A judicial externship provides skills and experiences that can lead to incredible job opportunities,” said Russo. Furthermore, externs build relationships with judges and staff, which are beneficial in learning about future pro bono, volunteer and project work.

In addition to networking, judicial externships help students strengthen Legal Research Writing skills. Recent Oregon Law graduate and former State and Federal extern Zachary Smallwood ’12 explained that both of his externships “assuredly honed my skills as a writer and researcher.”

Jolie Russo and Mindy Wittkop

Jolie Russo and Mindy Wittkop '97

The University of Oregon School of Law offers externships in both State and Federal courts. Spring 2012 is the 20th semester of the judicial externship program with an average of 21 students per semester. Externs have been placed in Lane, Linn, Douglas, Multnomah and Marion County Circuit Courts, Oregon Federal Courts, the Oregon Court of Appeals and the Oregon Supreme Court. Outside of Oregon, students have externed in: Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Califonial, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New York, Utah and Washington. Most recently, there are 25 extern placements for the Summer 2012 term.

Students are encouraged to do both a State and Federal externship. There is value in doing each because “they provide a very different experience,” explained Russo. When asked about the major differences between a State judicial externship and a Federal judicial externship, both Brewer and Smallwood emphasized the importance of interacting with the judges. “Each externship provided me with a unique perspective: the perspective of a judge,” said Brewer. Smallwood elaborated and explained, “The varying experiences from externship to externship depends not on the jurisdiction, but rather the judge.”

The judicial externship program receives a great amount of help from Russo and Mindy Wittkop, as the Oregon Law Adjunct Instructors who oversee the program. The two became directly involved in the program, coordinating judicial externships together, nearly eight years ago.

Russo and Wittkop work with Federal and State judges in Oregon to coordinate externships. Mostly, Russo concentrates on Federal externships and Wittkop focuses on State externships. Together, Russo and Wittkop provide educational content for students and require their students to keep journals documenting their externship experiences. Students meet with Russo and Wittkop to deepen reflections, knowledge, and learning from the externships.

Judge Aiken’s involvement with externships began with her suggestion to work with increasing law opportunities for students. She has truly immersed herself in the investment of the professional success of law students. “Judge Aiken is actively involved in the judicial externship program as a way to stay connected to the School of Law,” said Wittkop.

“Judge Aiken has been a great advocate for the University of Oregon externship program,” said Judge David Brewer, Chief Judge of the Oregon Court of Appeals. She is always on the lookout for opportunities for Oregon Law students to get exposure to the practice and law experiences. One way Judge Aiken accomplishes this is by encouraging fellow judges to take on externs.

Each semester, Judge Aiken directly works with four students, two in Eugene and two in Portland. Even after the externships, Judge Aiken maintains relationships with her externs and continues to mentor them. When asked about judges who have influenced her externship experience, Amy Brewer spoke about Judge Litzenberger and Judge Aiken. The two judges “have influenced both my personal life and my professional life,” said Brewer.

Judge Aiken helps to create opportunities statewide in communities such as Eugene, Portland, Medford and Pendleton. Even during tough budget times for Oregon courts, “she has constantly promoted the full utilization of externships to provide mutual benefits for students and the courts,” explained Judge Brewer. He continued, “We all owe Ann a huge debt of gratitude for her leadership on this critical issue.”

“There is tremendous support for externs in both Eugene and in Portland and many Oregon Law students take advantage of being able to participate in both State and Federal judicial externships,” said Wittkop. In addition to this support, students strongly recommend getting practical experience during their time in law school. “Judicial externships are both enlightening and educational,” explained Smallwood.

Ultimately, the Oregon Law judicial externship program gets a great deal of support from alumni such as Judge Aiken. There are a number of alumni, many who are judges, who take on Oregon Law students as externs. The University of Oregon School of Law is grateful to the alumni who are invested in the professional success of its law students.


Oregon Law » Oregon Lawyer Online » Summer 2012 » Judicial Externships offer real-world insight into the judicial process