Sean Birt was a 2L at UIC Law in Spring 2021 when he externed with Hon. Celia G. Gamrath of the Circuit Court of Cook County’s General Chancery Division. The Circuit Court of Cook County is the largest judicial circuit court in Illinois and one of the largest unified court systems in the United States. The Chancery Division is a court of equity, where parties seek relief other than monetary damages, including injunctions, writs, or specific performance.
Externship Program: Our program tries to ensure that regardless of the placement site, our students are challenged to expand their skills and apply what they’ve learned in law school. What are some projects you have completed and areas of law where you exposed to in your externship?
Sean Birt: At the Chancery Division, I observed daily court calls and a lot of hearings on dispositive motions. During the externship, I drafted three bench memos, and I am currently finishing up my first order. These projects gave me a chance to work with insurance policy disputes, retirement benefit disputes, FOIA issues, enforcement of restrictive covenants in employment contracts, and misrepresentations in residential real estate contracts.
EP: Throughout the course of your externship, which existing skills did you draw from the most? What are some of the skills (legal and non-legal) you had a chance to develop and/or strengthen?
Birt: No question I used my analytical skills the most. Writing bench memos requires a lot of objectivity—you have to look at both arguments, analyze both sides, and then make a decision based on that analysis. It’s a lot more involved than just saying “the motion is granted,” because you have to anticipate what what will happen next in the case based on your decision.
Throughout my externship, I really appreciated the chance to hone proper courtroom etiquette. As I observed court court calls, I got a chance to see what works for attorneys, and what doesn’t, and that provided a lot of insight into what a judge expects. At the end of the day, it is all about respect and making concrete arguments.
I also strengthened my writing and research skills more than I could have imagined. Judge Gamrath’s writing, and that of her clerks, is spectacular. The more I read memoranda and orders, the better I came to understand what a judge is looking for in a memo.
EP: You were supervised by one of Judge Gamrath’s law clerks. What was your relationship like? Are there any specific skills he helped you explore or refine?
Birt: My relationship with [my supervisor] was fantastic. He and I had a discourse where we would share research, discuss our thoughts on the outcome of a case, and have video sessions to go over my memos.
EP: How has your externship influenced your plans for legal practice?
Birt: I have always been interested in business law as a whole, but my externship exposed me to a number of different types of contracts and that really solidified my interest in transactional law. The issues in the contracts that were being litigated gave me a better understanding of what to do to could avoid these issues.
EP: What did you find to be the most meaningful part of your externship experience?
Birt: Judge Gamrath and her law clerks gave me a lot of independence. They assigned me a case and a due date and then they let me take it from there. I love that they showed that level of faith in me, because it really forced me to learn things on my own. But when I experienced any challenges, both my judge and the law clerks were ready to help me.
BP: Any advice for future students externing with the Chancery Division?
Birt: Do it! This was an extremely fulfilling experience, and I learned so much in just a short semester. If you have the opportunity to extern with Judge Gamrath, take it! She is the absolute best, and her law clerks are top notch.