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How to Gain Litigation Experience as a Law Student

Contributed by Grace Heidorn

Almost every law student wants to experience what occurs inside a courtroom, regardless of whether the student seeks to pursue a career in transactional law or litigation. There are many ways for students to gain this experience. Students can extern with a judge or intern with a litigation firm, either of which will likely lead to some courtroom experience. One of the most effective yet unexpected ways to receive courtroom experience is through interning at a prosecutor’s office. Prosecutors appear on the record, almost daily, for a variety of proceedings, such as bond, preliminary, arraignment, pre-trial, trial, and sentencing. Thus, students who intern at a prosecutor’s office will have the unique opportunity to observe or participate in these proceedings. By observing or participating in court proceedings, interns gain valuable skills, such as learning about context to school-related material and about different methods of oral advocacy.

Observing court proceedings provides context to the material students are learning in school. Students read numerous cases, which are primarily opinions from an appellate or a supreme court. A common factor among these opinions is that they usually resolve issues that were decided by the trial court, but rarely does a student read a case from a trial court. Thus, it is important for a student to gain exposure to trial court proceedings because decisions made at that level affect appellate courts. Observing court proceedings also provides important context for specific courses, such as evidence and procedure. In evidence and procedure courses, students learn about certain rules, such as how to conduct direct examinations and lay foundation for exhibits. A prosecuting intern will likely have the opportunity to observe a trial and, in doing so, will have a strong foundational knowledge in evidence, allowing the student to better understand how to conduct a direct examination and how to lay foundation for exhibits.

Observing court proceedings also provides strong oral advocacy skills. These skills are largely practical, meaning that they are best learned through direct experience. Students will quickly learn that every experienced attorney has their own method of oral advocacy. For example, an intern can observe defense counsel conduct a cross examination strategically in such a way that the defense counsel plants small seeds of doubt in the jurors’ minds. Alternatively, an intern can observe defense counsel try to negotiate an offer on the record during a pretrial hearing, something that is typically unfavorable because it shows that the attorney was unprepared. Students have the opportunity to adopt beneficial methods and to avoid disadvantageous methods, which can be learned from observing the various ways in which attorneys litigate.

By interning at a prosecutor’s office, students can add context to the material learned in school and determine which methods of oral advocacy best suits them. Even if students do not have an interest in pursuing a career in criminal law, this experience is beneficial because it exposes students to litigation at such an early stage in their career, which is rare to find in many areas of civil law. Therefore, interning at a prosecutor’s office is an excellent way to gain and develop valuable practical experience, and helps set these students apart from their peers when they enter practice.

About the Author

Grace Heidorn is a 2L law student at Chicago-Kent College of Law who will graduate in May 2024. Grace graduated from Michigan State University’s James Madison College in 2020 with a Bachelors in Social Relations and Policy. While in undergrad, she interned for a Michigan State Representative, at a lobbying firm, and at a public relations firm. Prior to law school, Grace worked at an auto-insurance defense firm. Most recently, she worked at the Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s Office in Michigan. Grace currently works at the Prosecutor’s Office in its Appellate Division. She looks forward to helping, and being an advocate for people after graduation.

When not in law school, Grace’s hobbies include anything outdoors, such as snowboarding, camping, and hiking.

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