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By: Judge John C. Cratsley (Ret.)

The 2019 Spring Term Judicial Process in Trial Courts Clinic involves twenty students in placements with federal and state trial court judges. Three judges from Japan and one from Korea attend our weekly classes, adding their international perspectives.  The clinic provides students the unique opportunity to discuss judicial reasoning with the judges. Students shared the lessons they are beginning to learn in their first-day-in-court papers.  Among these are their first impressions of the necessary qualities of a good judge:

“…throughout the day, I found myself thinking about how patient my judge was and how well he matched the ideals of judicial temperament that we discussed in class. . . I was very impressed by his calm demeanor and strong focus on procedural fairness. There were moments that would have tried my patience …”

“…for a judge like mine who is handling many high-profile cases at the center of public controversy and media attention, courage would be a particularly important virtue. It would be challenging to stay strong and unaffected amidst public criticisms or unfair characterizations of her reasoning or ruling in news reports.”

“Sentencing must be one of the most challenging responsibilities that a judge undertakes and having compassion during that process, as my judge exemplified on Tuesday, is critical to criminal justice.”

Another student expressed surprise at the teamwork exhibited by her judge and clerks, “The judge eats lunch with the clerks (and now, the intern) every day. While we sometimes talk over our cases, more often, we’ll discuss current events and our thoughts on the criminal justice system. There is an emphasis on valuing interpersonal relationships and spending time together as a team.”

Other students stressed the value of the opportunity the clinic presents for improving their writing skills:

 “I feel assured that my time this semester will be highly productive, filled with substantive work and real opportunities to think deeply about the legal issues presented at the trial court.”

“First, with respect to the work, I could not be more thrilled. It is clear from my conversations with clerks and an outgoing intern that I will get to work on many of the same assignments as clerks. Indeed, after my trip to HR, I hit the ground running in reviewing a habeas petition. In digging into the material, I could see complex legal issues, remnants of a complex legal battle for the petitioner thus far, and a man’s life hanging in the balance.”

Finally, watching attorneys at work in the courtroom, understanding court practices and procedures, and then evaluating what succeeds, fills out law school experiences such as the Trial Advocacy Workshop (TAW):

“. . .I had the opportunity to observe some outstanding lawyers at work. . .Having recently completed TAW, I was very impressed by the closing arguments given by both sides.”

“I had an extremely rewarding experience. . . I had exposure to opening and closing statement, direct and cross examination from the Trial Advocacy Workshop, but had never seen a jury selection before. I was struck by the judge’s patience and professionalism, but surprised by the repetitive, and even slow nature of the process.”

“My first day in court was incredible. . .  On a single Friday in a community court, I probably saw as many different kinds of cases as I did in the whole semester working in the federal courthouse in Boston.”

All of these first impressions papers contain one truth about experiential education – when students leave the classroom and enter the courtroom, they gain significant new insights about our judicial branch of government.

Filed in: Clinical Student Voices, Hot Take

Tags: Judge John C. Cratsley (Ret.), Judicial Process in Trial Courts Clinic

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