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Pathways to the Profession: Kristen DeWilde L’20

June 19, 2018

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 United States and abroad. This post from Kristen DeWilde L’20 is one in a series of firsthand accounts detailing how students’ summer employment opportunities are preparing them for their legal careers.

DeWilde is a 2017 summa cum laude graduate from the University of North Texas, where she earned her Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Business Administration degrees.

Buc-ees, a beloved chain gas station in Texas, takes another gas station to trial for trademark infringement. Chief Judge Rosenthal fills her chambers with home-baked muffins because no proper legal analysis is complete without eating one. Inmates in ICE custody await sentences. The press arrives to the courthouse to hear an update on a case related to a Brady violation. On a special day, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit hears oral arguments in your courthouse and you stop by to observe. Legal research assignments land on your desk. The clerks keep their doors open for your big, small, and sometimes (very) tiny questions. And of course, you keep a copy of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure close to your side at all times.

This is a week in the life of interning for Chief Judge Rosenthal in the Southern District of Texas. After spending a year in the depths of casebooks, hornbooks, the bluebook, outlines, and anything else I could get my hands on to stay afloat during the first year of law school, a judicial internship has been a beautiful and challenging way to come up for air. The first year of law school was a complete immersion into the study of law, but for me, a judicial internship has been a complete immersion into being part of the law-in-action.

My job as an intern is similar to that of a clerk’s: I perform legal research, draft memoranda and orders, attend hearings with Judge Rosenthal, and never (ever) stop revising. But this means with each week, I get to learn about a new subject area, or expand my knowledge on the foundational legal principles and doctrine we were taught throughout law school. Not only does each assignment test my legal knowledge, but it also tests my ability to learn about new markets, sectors, and products. In March of this year alone, the Southern District of Texas had over 13,500 case filings ranging from topics involving intellectual property, contractual disputes, tortious conduct, immigration, constitutional claims, maritime law, and criminal law. My internship has taught me that having the tools to understand each case’s context and factual details is almost as important as having the tools to perform legal research and apply the law. I look forward to receiving one of Penn’s cross-disciplinary certificates, the SCAN Neuroscience Certificate, to add to my toolset moving forward.

Each class I took during my first year at Penn Law has informed and improved my experience as a judicial intern. Even though international law disputes do not arise as frequently on the federal docket as a tort suit, my international law class with Professor Burke-White showed me that law is not always black and white and it helped expand the way in which I view the law’s structure. My class on Judicial Decision-Making with Judge Scirica informed me on the role of the judiciary and the role of the judge in an adversarial process. Criminal Law, Constitutional Law, Torts, and Contracts with Professors Morse, Roosevelt, deLisle, and Galbraith, each provided me with a working knowledge of law that my assignments have involved.

Civil Procedure with Professor Wolff and Legal Practice Skills with Professor Silver were the two most important courses I took in preparing for my internship. As a judicial intern, my job includes research and writing all day. Professor Silver taught me to write like a person, write with clarity, throw out the legalese, and to remember each sentence can always be improved. Professor Wolff taught me that civil procedure is not just a book of rules – but it is a balance of rights and obligations between parties in a lawsuit, which has far-reaching implications for the way in which our society finds justice. Getting to watch Chief Judge Rosenthal adjudicate disputes in the spirt and aspiration of this procedural fairness has been enriching.

As with each law school experience, I know I will carry this one with me throughout the rest of my legal and personal journey.

- Kristen DeWilde


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