Externship Profile: Superior Court of the District of Columbia

A desire to serve on the bench one day led Tamara M. Lee, 2L, to serve as a summer extern for the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. The court, located in the nation’s capitol, handles local trial matters, including civil, criminal, family, probate, tax, small claims and traffic. It consists of a chief judge as well as several senior judges, associate judges and magistrate judges.

Through her externship, Lee is able to work closely with three judges and their law clerks. Daily tasks include morning conferences, observing a variety of trials and assisting with drafting orders and research.

The day-to-day interactions in the courthouse and chambers allow her to see exactly how much work goes into clerking for a judge. “Clerks are doing several things at once. For example, my clerk sits in on trials and then still makes time for other work like writing orders, making the calendar for the next day and reading motions,” said Lee.

Additionally Lee sees behind the scenes operations. “I am able to see how judges make their decisions and how they interact with their clerks and other attorneys. The judges are able to not only provide me with advice of what not to do when litigating a case, but also give me real-life examples based on observations in their courtrooms,” said Lee.

“All the judges have an open door policy when it comes to discussing anything of interest, which reminds me of Charleston Law’s faculty and staff. Through my discussions I have learned that there are many ways to the bench. Each judge that I have met has a different background, and story on how they became a judge. For example, one judge was a former nun and a journalist prior to serving on the bench.”

Court experiences are always interesting, but recently Lee was able to observe a felony murder trial where the defendant had allegedly stabbed his own mother 21 times in the head, and was pleading not guilty due to insanity. She had the opportunity to watch from opening arguments to sentencing of the defendant.

She strongly recommends the Superior Court of the District of Columbia externship to those students interested in clerking or litigating. “This program allows one to get in the ‘trenches’ and provides one with invaluable experience. Be prepared to multitask and take initiative,” said Lee.

Lee is a native of the District of Columbia and received her degree from the University of South Carolina before enrolling in the Charleston School of Law.

Charleston School of Law’s externship program allows students to gain practical work experience while earning course credit. Students complement their classroom studies by working under the direct supervision of members of the judiciary or attorneys in the public sector. This summer, Charleston School of Law students are at 35 exciting externships sites helping the community. Since fall 2006, Charleston School of Law students have completed approximately 82, 114 externship hours. The externship course is offered during the fall, spring and summer terms. For more information please contact Professor James Klein or Autumn Jones.

Story by: Alexis Economy