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Voices from across professional fields: Student summer employment dispatches - Christina Wong

July 24, 2012

Editor’s Note: Each summer Penn Law students hone their skills through a wide array of private and public sector internships across the country and around the world. Generous financial support and fellowships for international and public interest work enable students to pursue diverse assignments in the U.S. and abroad. This dispatch from Christina S. Wong L’14 is one in a series of firsthand accounts by Law School students about how their summer employment opportunities are preparing them for their legal careers.

With support from federal work study funds, Wong is working in Pasadena in the chambers of Chief Judge Alex Kozinski on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Her experience as an extern, a student receiving practical training, has inspired her to consider becoming a litigator.
I have learned so much working this summer in Judge Kozinksi’s chambers. As an extern, I have the first crack at a case – reading the parties’ briefs and the record, conducting legal research, and writing a memo about my recommendation for the case. I then discuss the case with a law clerk, who writes the final bench memo for the Judge. Since there are five externs and five clerks, one pair works on each case. We also monitor potential en banc cases, draft orders, and respond to judicial misconduct complaints.
I was especially excited when my first case dealt with the Board of Immigration Appeals, where I could apply directly what I learned from Administrative Law. I have also worked on cases involving insurance class actions, Fourth Amendment rights, Fifth Amendment rights, the death penalty, habeas corpus petitions, and ineffective assistance of counsel.
One of my favorite aspects of this externship has been watching oral arguments. The first week of every month is court week, when various three-judge panels hear cases. Observing how a certain legal issue is fleshed out and what is important to the judges from their questions is really enlightening to see. The judges don’t hesitate to joke with or reprimand the lawyers. Sometimes the lawyers seem just as nervous as I was for my 1L appellate argument.
We have also been fortunate to be in Pasadena for en banc week, which happens just four times a year – twice in Pasadena and twice in San Francisco. Watching all 11 judges file into the courtroom, black-robed, and being announced by the court clerk gave me tingles every time. Sometimes, the judges cracked inside jokes, or debated the law on the bench amongst themselves, ignoring the lawyer.
I am strongly considering a future career in litigation because of my externship. I have really enjoyed trying to find the “right” legal answer, which is sometimes challenging with issues of first impression for this circuit. Experimenting with interpretation and logic has been really enjoyable in trying to solve the legal precedent puzzle. I have also found the parties’ briefs to be illuminating for exposing the wide spectrum of bias to advocacy. The varying quality of the briefs also brings to light the lessons learned during 1L Legal Writing.
Everyone in chambers – Judge Kozinski, his clerks and externs – has also had a chance to socialize outside of work. We went to the Judge’s Memorial Day BBQ, watched Spamalot, attended a Federalist Society event, attended an ACLU event, and went to a wine and cheese event at the courthouse.
This summer has really exceeded my expectations. I look forward to work each day and have so much respect for my fellow externs, the law clerks, and the Judge.
-          Christina S. Wong  


More summer student dispatches:

-Alisan VanFleet L’13, who is working in the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office.

-Hannah Gerstenblatt L’14, who is working in the Commissioner’s Office of Major League Baseball in New York City.

-Stephanie Shyu L’14, who is working for the Beijing Arbitration Commission in Beijing, China.

-Lauren-Kelly Devine L’14, who is working for the Athletes and Personalities division of Octagon Inc. in McLean, VA.

-Will Moine L’14, who is working in the Office of the Federal Defender for the Eastern District of California in Sacramento.

-Christen Farr L’13, who is working for the International Finance Corporation, a member institution of the World Bank, in Istanbul, Turkey.