As a 2L, Joelle Maryzelle Juarez had the opportunity to extern with Hon. Franklin U. Valderrama of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois is a federal trial-level court with jurisdiction over the northern counties of Illinois. The Court is divided into two geographical division, the eastern and western divisions, and the district includes all of the Chicago metropolitan area.
Externship Program: Over the years, a lot of our law students have externed with judges in the Northern District of Illinois, but everyone’s experience is different. Can you tell us a bit about your experience? What type of legal projects did you work on?
Joelle Juarez: Sure! It’s been a great experience. I’ve had the opportunity to research and draft orders on motions to dismiss and motions for summary judgment that involved issues like Title VII and 42 U.S.C. § 1981. I’ve gained exposure to both civil and criminal cases and have had a chance to observe hearings, bench trials, and a jury trial. The most notable cases have been employment cases—they make up approximately 25% of the federal docket!
EP: What skills do you think you use the most? Any new skills you’ve developed along the way?
Juarez: During my externship, I’ve used my legal research and writing skills the most and used them to successfully complete two opinions and draft an outline for a third. I’ve also strengthened my networking skills by connecting with fellow Judicial Externs and Law Clerks. It’s been valuable to learn more about their experiences and to get direct feedback as to the best approach to take on assigned work. Overall, it has been an honor to witness first-hand how trials are run at the federal level.
EP: I’m sure you’ve had a chance to develop a close relationship with your externship supervisor. Are there any specific skills that they’ve helped you explore or refine?
Juarez: That’s true, I have developed a strong mentorship with my externship supervisor, who is also a Career Law Clerk at the Northern District. I can always turn to her for guidance on externship work and law school experience, as well as with questions about professional opportunities. I am confident that our relationship will continue, and I am thrilled to have found yet another mentor through this judicial externship. She’s so inspiring, the way she handles herself with grace and is always ready to lend a helping hand. I aspire to become an attorney like her someday – efficient, precise, and research savvy.
EP: Has your experience influenced any of your future career plans? Has your externship influenced your plans for legal practice, including practice area, practice setting, etc.? Has your externship shaped your sense of the justice system? If so, how?
Juarez: This externship has strengthened my desire to pursue a career in litigation. It’s just been so exciting to witness, from start to finish, how trials are handled. With Judge Valderrama, I had the opportunity to witness my first in-person trial ever—that’s a law school memory I will never forget. It reinforced the importance of zealously advocating for your client in a compelling way. As an attorney, you set the tone of your advocacy at the start of a trial during opening statements.
This experience has sparked an even greater interest in labor and employment law, and that’s an area of law that I plan to explore this summer as a Summer Associate at Michael Best & Friedrich LLP. My work as an extern has involved a lot of employment and racial discrimination cases, and that’s been great exposure to prepare to navigate the complex relationships between employers and employees.
And in a general sense, my experience with the Northern District has given me a greater appreciation for the judiciary. It is one thing to read cases in casebooks, but it is an entirely different experience to witness first-hand how cases play out in person. I can’t stress that enough.
My judicial experience has given me a greater sense of how judicial decisions are made within the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. I believe I have gained the skills and experience necessary to undertake exhaustive legal research as I continue on in the legal profession.
EP: Has there been anything that’s surprised you?
Juarez: Actually, what surprised me the most was my ability to adapt to a new project – like writing an opinion for the first time – and get the job done. And I owe a lot of that to the training I’ve received at UIC law. The research and writing skills I’ve developed in the LS program really provided a foundation from which I can succeed. I’ve learned I am a fast learner, a team player, and I can take constructive criticism.
EP: What was the most meaningful part of your externship?
Juarez: That’s easy, sitting in on various proceedings, the hearings, bench trials, and a jury trial. The in-person interactions have made this judicial experience unforgettable. Judge Valderrama exposed me to my first criminal trial. I had the opportunity to witness a criminal tax fraud case. I’ve really enjoyed seeing how the rules of evidence and criminal procedure play out at the federal level.
EP: It sounds like you’ve really learned a lot from the experience. Is there any advice you’d offer students interested in similar experiences?
Juarez: Above all, don’t be afraid to ask questions, maintain communication with your supervisor, and be willing to share your thoughts about the various proceedings that you witness. As law students, we have the unique ability to ask thought-provoking questions that tap into how a judge may ultimately rule on a particular case. It’s important to take advantage of every moment, and it’s also helpful to those we serve!