Law School,  Work Life Balance

Summer Series: Rising to the Challenge

Another Summer Series Post! Today we hear from Stephanie, a rising 3L in Texas who is clerking for a Judge. Clerking is such an important experience that not enough Lawtinas get to experience! Stephanie gives insight on what it takes, the challenges she’s facing, and her dedication to meet the standards set by her Judge. What I love most about this is that Stephanie is recognizing the challenges in her work and does not shy away–in fact, she’s leaning into it, knowing it will make her a better, stronger writer. Que animo, Stephanie! Makes us all want to work harder!

My name is Stephanie Gutierrez, and I am currently a judicial intern for the United States District Courts in the Southern District of Texas. I am fortunate enough to have gotten this position thanks to the guidance of one of my mentors, and have been grateful for such an eye-opening experience. This position has allowed me to gain insight on a multitude of legal issues, and has challenged my writing abilities.

I am a first generation law student. Entering law school, I didn’t know that being a judicial clerk, let alone, a judicial intern was a thing. Luckily, I have mentors that showed me the importance of a judicial internship. One of my mentors, Valerie Salcido, sat me down one day and told me all about the importance of a judicial internship. That same day she took me on a tour of the federal courthouse in Houston, Texas. On our last stop of the tour we happened upon the judge’s courtroom who I currently intern for. After the hearing, the judge called us up to the bench. We spoke to the judge, and in the middle of our conversation, the judge informed us that she was looking for interns. The judge encouraged me to apply. Having that brief conversation with her, allowed me to have a personal connection when writing my cover letter for my application. Anyway to make yourself stand out on an application is always a plus. I am grateful to my mentor, and many other mentors that I have had throughout law school thus far. If it weren’t for them I wouldn’t be where I am now.

Being a judicial intern has been rewarding in many ways. Specifically, it has helped me better analyze the law, improve my writing skills, and has given me the opportunity to be a part of many different hearings. I have worked for defense firms, for plaintiff firms, for local government, for small firms, and big firms, and working for a judge is unlike any of those positions. Working for a judge is like pulling back the curtain and getting to see how the legal gears are made. Not only do you get the inside scoop of the legal realm, but your critical thinking skills are put to the test. Your mindset is no longer one sided, but you now take the seat of a neutral party and analyze the law from that perspective. Your mind is challenged to put emotions to the side, and strictly focus on what the law says.

With this challenge, I will admit, there is a steep learning curve. Writing for a professor, or a senior attorney, or even law review is truly no match for writing for a judge. Writing for a judge has been something that, admittedly, I have struggled with. I pride myself in my writing. I have received some of the highest grades in my writing courses, and even tutor 1Ls in legal writing. I thought that this position would be an extension of what I already knew how to do. I was completely wrong. There is a unique skill in writing for a judge, that I have yet to master, but know that I will by the end of my internship. When you write for a judge, you have to write as if you were the judge. You have to be able to match the tone and skill of a judge. But as all great things, it takes time. This internship has humbled me in ways that I could not have imagined.

I know that I want to practice labor and employment law when I graduate next spring, and have already started talking to employment lawyers about how to get into the industry — but learning about different areas of the law has always interested me. Knowing that I want to practice labor and employment law means that I will likely have to deal with the federal courts most, if not all, of the time. Being a part of different hearings has allowed me to see different types of lawyering, and learn how to implement best practices.

This summer has taught me many things about myself, and my future legal career. I have been able to step back from the usual commotion and come to terms with what’s most important to me and my future. Working from home and remote interning has not been easy. I sometimes find it hard to retain information by simply looking at a screen, and battle with the need to separate work and personal time. I am very much a perfectionist, so telling myself to stop working is often difficult. The good thing is that I have recognized this, and I am working on bettering my boundaries.

I have been challenged through my internship, and have come to an understanding of what I value in myself and in my future career. Ultimately, this summer is one that I am very grateful for.