Playing the Referee

Claire Fernandez  is a Lead Articles Editor on Law Review, a Burks Scholar Writing Fellow, and the former secretary of LALSA.  Claire spent the first half of her summer working for a judge at the Fourteenth Court of Appeals in Houston, Texas.   She will spend the next six weeks working for Judge Frances Stacy, also in Houston, who is a federal magistrate judge for the Southern District of Texas.

As I was lying by the pool this Fourth of July, I found myself reflecting on the six weeks I had just spent interning for Justice Jeff Brown at the Fourteenth Court of Appeals in Houston, Texas . . .

Okay, that’s not entirely true—technically I was reflecting on a People magazine.  But now that the long weekend is over, I’m back to reality and the request to write this blog.  (I hope everyone had a good holiday though!)

I am splitting my summer between two judicial internships and, as I mentioned, I spent the first six weeks working at the Fourteenth Court of Appeals here in Houston.  I found the job on Symplicity, our Career Services job database, and applied only after wrapping my mind around the concept of an application that would only be accepted via snail mail.  Luckily things worked out because, partly to my surprise, I can confidently say that it was the best job I’ve ever had.  Don’t get me wrong—I was excited about the job going into it.  But it’s one thing to enjoy a bit of reading and writing, and another to enjoy doing it forty hours per week.

Judge Brown and his two attorneys, Austin and Pat, immediately made me feel welcome in the chambers.  In the first week we went to two lunches, a happy hour, and a dinner reception.  And I also did some work.  After just one cite-checking assignment, Austin assigned my first draft opinion.  He gave me all the records, told me Judge Brown’s ruling, and let me at it.  I made my way through that first draft opinion with the guidance of my chambers, and before I knew it, the opinion was on its way to Westlaw.  I was thrilled.  I found the entire experience extremely rewarding and by the end of the internship, I’d gotten through four draft opinions.

While I see the appeal to being an advocate, I loved writing from the judge’s perspective and playing the referee.  I also loved the appellate perspective.  The trial court resolved the he-said-she-said fact issues, and we were left to determine, based on those conclusions, which party had the law on his or her side.  This also meant that we turned cases over relatively quickly, and the pace kept the work from becoming boring.

I also had the opportunity to watch oral arguments.  When Judge Brown was on the panel, he invited me to attend the pre- and post- submission conferences, where the three judges on his panel and their attorneys discussed the cases being argued.  Although I did not participate in W&L’s Davis Appellate Advocacy competition, this helped me understand why my peers enjoyed it so much.

Unfortunately, last Friday marked the end of my time in Judge Brown’s chambers.  While I would have loved to stay there all summer, I’m excited to start my next internship working for Magistrate Judge Frances Stacy at the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas!

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