A Look Ahead: Summer externships help prepare law school students for future roles


By Debra Talcott
Legal News

When the fall 2010 semester begins, 13 law school students will be sharing an interesting variation on the “What-I-did-over-summer-vacation
” theme. Thanks to the fund-raising efforts of the Wolverine Bar Foundation, these students participated in a summer externship program with judges from the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan.  The externships provided supervised practice away from the students’ respective law schools with leaders in the legal community.

Three of the “lucky 13” include Jyarland Daniels Jones from Wayne State University, Mamie Purnell from Cooley Law School in Auburn Hills, and Cheyne Scott from Cooley – Grand Rapids.

“As with all post-law school clerkships, selection for the WBA externship was a competitive process, with components including academics and a rigorous interviewing process,” explains Daniels Jones. “There was also an assessment of ‘fit’ and the likelihood that a candidate would benefit from as well as add to the goings-on in a judge’s chambers.”

Daniels Jones, who will graduate in May 2012, was assigned to work in the office of Chief Judge Gerald Rosen.

“On a daily basis I reported to chambers and was supervised by his esteemed and capable law clerks, Linda Hylenksi and Jim Lewis. I worked 32 hours per week for 13 weeks,” she explains.

Daniels Jones earned her undergraduate degree in business with a minor in Japanese language from the University of Kansas. She also earned an MBA in marketing and finance from the University of Michigan before attending WSU Law School. She is affiliated with the ACLU at the law school and will serve as the organization’s president in the coming year. Daniels Jones also serves on the Board of Directors of the State Organization. She will also compete on both the Moot Court and Mock Trial teams this year.

While her marketing and business background would be good preparation for a career in corporate or trademark law, Daniels Jones is devoted to civil rights and education law.

“I felt compelled to leave my business career and pursue a career in law upon seeing the racial segregation that still exists in Southeast Michigan,” explains Daniels Jones. “There is a hostile environment in schools—even in the best districts—for children of color. I have witnessed my 10-year-old son experience even more racial challenges in school than I did 30 years ago in Kansas. I want to be part of the solution for him and others.”

During her summer externship, Daniels Jones found that the best part of working in a federal court is that the cases reflect current social issues.

“I found the work on immigration-related issues especially interesting given the ongoing debate in Arizona,” she says. “In each case I read, I came across individuals who were willing to risk all they had, leave their families, and ‘put it all on the line’ to become an American. I saw the same unquenchable desire and unspeakable joy in the naturalization ceremonies that took place at the court on a weekly basis. It struck me that, regardless how much we criticize our country and work in varying ways for its improvement, collectively, we sometimes forget what immigrants and newly naturalized citizens already know—that this is a great country.”

Daniels Jones and the other students selected as this year’s participants received stipends of $1,500 apiece to cover their summer living expenses—a valuable component of the program because students may not be employed during the term of their externships.

Mamie Purnell, who expects to earn her J.D. in January, worked in the chambers of the U.S. District Judge Robert Cleland for 24 hours each week. Purnell says she was inspired to attend law school after taking a business law course while studying for her Property and Casualty License.

“That class taught me how to separate my emotions from the task at hand and to respectfully disagree with my peers. Upon its completion, I knew that I was going to law school,” she says.

During her tenure at Cooley, Purnell, a Pennsylvania native, has been on the Dean’s List and Honor Roll.  She placed sixth among the Top 10 Advocates in the First Year Moot Court Competition.  Purnell has also served as vice president of the Criminal Law Society and social chair of the Black Law Students Association.

Purnell’s best memories of her summer externship include an experience from her first week in the program.

“I had been given a very lengthy assignment with a hard deadline. During that week there was a lot of self-doubt,” she confesses. “Towards the end of the week, I was invited to a working lunch with Judge Cleland, and after explaining what I was working on, he and I were in agreement on the recommended course of action. At the hearing a few days later, the judge used some of the language that I had used in my bench memo.  I had chills and did my best to mask the grin on my face.  That let me know that I was in the right place and that all I needed to do was have a little confidence in myself,” says Purnell.

Cheyne Scott, who also expects to earn her J.D. in January, is on the Honor Roll and Dean’s List at Cooley – Grand Rapids. She was recognized as the third Best Advocate in the First Year Moot Court Competition.  A member of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, the Black Law Students Association, and the Moot Court Board, Scott participated in Cooley’s 2010 Australia and New Zealand study abroad program.

Since her early days of high school, Scott knew she wanted a career in the law.

“When I was 16, I was nominated to participate in the National Young Leaders Conference in Washington, D.C.  There, I argued a mock Supreme Court case. When my partner got sick on the day of our argument, I had to present both sides, and I won. After that, I realized I wanted to be a lawyer. My desire to practice employment and labor law was inspired by my dad, who worked in human resources for the City of Ann Arbor for 30 years.”

Scott spent her summer externship in the office of Judge Patrick Duggan, where she worked closely with his court clerks, Lauren Mandel and Leslie Robinson, approximately 24 hours each week.

In June, Judge Duggan sat on the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals by designation, and Scott traveled to Cincinnati with the judge and his clerks to watch arguments.

“That is my best memory of the summer experience. I had drafted bench memoranda in two of the cases that were being heard, so it was great to actually see those cases being argued. Additionally, having time to talk candidly with the Judge about his experiences on the bench was very rewarding,” says Scott.

Scott says that one key lesson she learned from Judge Duggan was that attorneys must always listen and answer the question that is asked.

“Often, lawyers would try to figure out where a question was going or try to get around an obvious question if the honest answer was not in that lawyer’s favor. But the Judge never let a lawyer continue if that lawyer did not answer his original question, and a lawyer’s unwillingness to concede a simple point could prove fatal to his or her motion,” says Scott.

Scott, Purnell, and Daniels Jones all agree that the judicial externship program was a rewarding and invaluable experience that honed their research and writing skills, helped them gain firsthand exposure to the Federal courtroom environment, and developed their mentoring relationships.

Daniels Jones credits Judge Victoria Roberts of the Eastern District of Michigan, the driving force behind this valuable program since 2001. She also credits the Wolverine Bar Foundation for raising the funds to continue the program.

“It would be impossible for me to be too strong in my encouragement of other students to apply to this program. It would be equally impossible for me to understate the importance of Judges, law firms, and other legal professionals to supporting the WBF and follow the courageous lead set by Judge Victoria Roberts in starting the judicial externship component of the Foundation.”