JOE Program helps prepare students for judicial clerkships and courtroom practice

August 10, 2018 – If you ask a law student in South Carolina how he or she spent the summer, there is a good chance the student will mention the JOE Program.

The JOE (Judicial Observation and Experience) Program is in its 15th year of placing students for up to two weeks with members of South Carolina’s state judiciary as well as a number of South Carolina federal judges.

This summer, 76 students from the Charleston School of Law along with students from the University of South Carolina School of Law participated in JOE. The students from both schools worked with 128 judges. Since the summer of 2006, over 1,500 students have participated in this extremely successful program.

Collage of students with judges they worked with in the JOE program

Top (left to right): Lisa Walden with Judge Gerald Smoak, Cassidy Davidson with Judge Karen Ballenger, and Brad Riley with Judge Jocelyn Cate. Bottom (left to right): Myreon Williams with Judge Joseph Smithdeal, Leah Masterson with Judge Daniel Martin, Jr., and Ceara Irons with Judge Mikell Scarborough.

The students observe the court’s daily routine, including court proceedings, and have the opportunity to discuss their observations with the judge. Some judges also will ask the students to perform legal research or other work that a law clerk or court staff member would perform.

The South Carolina Chief Justice’s Commission on the Profession created and sponsors the JOE Program. Sharon Williams with the Nelson Mullins Riley and Scarborough Center on Professionalism at the University of South Carolina administers the program, with assistance from the career services departments at both law schools.

“The JOE program is an excellent opportunity for both the court and the student,” Williams said. “Getting to observe the law in practice rather than as an abstract concept is a valuable experience for JOE students and provides a good transition from law school to the ‘real world’.”

Lisa Walden, a 3L at Charleston Law who participated with Family Court Judge Gerald Smoak, who is based in Walterboro, described JOE as “a great opportunity to the see the inner workings of the court.”

Walden described how easy it was to connect to her assigned judge, and how she now feels like she has an advocate in the legal community. “I was quickly able to learn the language used during common actions in the court. I gained much more confidence in my ability to realistically practice law,” Walden said.

Myreon Williams, a 2L at Charleston Law, also described JOE as an “eye opening experience.”

Williams participated with Family Court Judge Joseph Smithdeal who is based in Greenwood. Williams was particularly inspired by how the judge encouraged the children who came before him in family court to do well in school and realize their full potential.

Like Lisa Walden and Myreon Williams, many law students share similar experiences with JOE.

“JOE inspires many students to seek judicial clerkships after graduation and also gives them the confidence to litigate in the future. Students have told me JOE was one of the highlights of their law school experience,” said Director of Public Service and Pro Bono Michelle Condon, who administers JOE at Charleston Law.
Along with helping the students, the JOE Program also helps the courts and those they serve. “I have had JOE students assist with projects and even found a future law clerk through the program,” Charleston County Probate Judge Irv Condon said.

By helping the students and helping the courts serve the public, the JOE Program is a winning experience for all.