Featured Faculty: Charles Sorenson
What do judges expect? Judicial interns learn first-hand.
New England Law | Boston offers two distinct judicial internship opportunities through the Judicial Internship Program. These legal internships provide valuable experience; students come to their postgraduate clerkships having already served with a judge and knowing what judges expect. They are prepared from day one. In addition, judges seeking clerks can get references for New England Law students directly from other judges or government officials.
The Honors Judicial Internship Program offers students the opportunity to work as part-time interns and receive academic credit for their work. The Summer Legal Judicial Internship Program provides a select group of students with full-time internships during the summer. Students receive a stipend from the law school. Both programs enable students to do research and writing for judges and observe a myriad of court proceedings.
Professor Charles Sorenson coordinates the two programs. “They provide New England Law students with a unique perspective on the practice of law,” he says, “and in arranging placements, I strive to ensure that students are able to work in courts that match their career interests. Students receive broad exposure to how attorneys practice before the courts and invaluable insights concerning how the courts and judges function. Students come away from these experiences with a very good sense of what works and what does not.”
All internships are not created equal.
Holly Hinte, Lindsey Restrepo, and Andy Sabino, members of the Class of 2011, participated in one of the school's judicial internship programs during the spring or summer of 2010.
Restrepo interned for Judge Barbara Lenk of the Massachusetts Appeals Court and worked on a variety of issues, including attorneys’ fees, termination of parental rights, the new Massachusetts Business Corporations Act, and a criminal case concerning a shareholder derivative suit. (Governor Deval Patrick nominated Lenk to the Supreme Judicial Court in April 2011, and she took the oath of office as associate justice on June 8.)
All internships are not created equal, Restrepo discovered. “I definitely had a better experience than interns from other schools. I got to see cases from start to finish, getting briefs, drafting bench memos, and attending oral arguments. Other interns were just doing research.
“Judge Lenk asked for my opinions on cases, and it was very intellectually stimulating. She gave me a lot of feedback, and my legal writing skills improved tenfold. “
Restrepo also benefitted from working with law clerks, including New England Law alumna Sarah Born ’08.
“I learned about the inner workings of the court, and how certain judges ask certain questions certain ways,” says Restrepo. “I will definitely have an edge over someone who didn’t have this experience.”
Learning the mechanics of court proceedings.
Andy Sabino ’11 interned with Judge Mitchell Sikora, another member of the Massachusetts Appeals Court. Sabino’s workload included a broad range of criminal cases, such as drug distribution, gun possession, DUI, and indecent exposure. His civil cases included contesting a will and a negligence case concerning toxic sewage.
“It confirmed to me that I’d like to go into litigation,” he says. “It was very fulfilling, because I could see the sort of work that lawyers before the court do and what goes into their briefs.”
Sabino’s “insider’s look” revealed many facets of court mechanics to him, such as the importance the judge placed on providing adequate explanations for his actions. “This was especially the case for losing parties,” he notes.
The importance of maintaining a good reputation.
Holly Hinte ’11 interned in Cambridge, MA, with the Honorable Peter C. DiGangi ’73, first justice of the Middlesex Probate and Family Court. The experience not only confirmed Hinte’s longstanding interest in family law, it also helped her envision donning a judge’s robes herself.
“Justice DiGangi really stressed observation,” Hinte says, “and he would say things like, ‘Did you understand what you saw?’ and ‘Did you hear the language that was used there? That’s what you need to use in an opening statement.’”
Hinte took careful notes, copying down over 80 observations of what to look for in court and how to be effective and efficient when appearing before judges.
She admits that prior to the internship she thought judges were “mysterious,” but Justice DiGangi’s warm and professional demeanor put her at ease. “He’s very into humor, and it was really neat to see him as a person, rather than ‘just a judge in a robe on the bench.’ It was very impressive to me that he treated everyone the same, whether they were other judges or the cleaning staff.”
Justice DiGangi repeatedly emphasized the importance of making and maintaining a good reputation. “We’d see the same attorneys over and over again,” says Hinte, “and he instilled in me that reputation was key.”
Hinte ate lunch daily with Justice DiGangi and another judge and with other interns. “It really furthered my knowledge and understanding,” she says. “It provided more time to go over what happened in court that day, and we learned about the judges’ experiences in law school, the job-hunting process, and how they became judges.
“I hope to be a judge someday myself. You’re helping people more than they know and you’re constantly dealing with new and different cases.”
"Among the best" experiences in law school.
The three students are convinced that the Judicial Internship Program helped them in their studies while better defining their career focus. “I would definitely recommend it to others, especially if they have any interest in going into litigation,” said Sabino. “We saw how judges approach their cases and what they expect from lawyers and the amount and quality of writing that’s required.”
Spending time in the courtroom and seeing how questions are framed is also great for boosting confidence, adds Restrepo. “You see people go up there before the judge and make arguments, and you say, ‘I can do that!’”
Professor Sorenson has developed most of the judicial internships and is constantly contacting judges and courts regarding the development of new ones. He works closely with students, providing them with information about clerkship opportunities that they can take advantage of while in law school and counseling on how to obtain postgraduate judicial clerkships. “I am always on the lookout for good clerkship candidates,” he says, “and I encourage and support them in their preparations and applications.”
Typically three-quarters of the New England Law students who land postgraduate clerkships had prior experience as judicial interns. “They really have a ‘leg up’ as they find that assisting judges in drafting judicial opinions is exciting, challenging, and greatly enhances their legal knowledge and skills,” comments Sorenson. “Working closely with judges and observing attorneys actually practicing provides a learning experience that can’t be replicated in the classroom.
“Students also uniformly report that their experience in these programs was among the best, if not the best, that they had in law school.”
Are law clerks fair game?
The Massachusetts Board of Bar Overseers recommended that three attorneys be disbarred for their roles in Bar Counsel v. Curry, in which their surreptitious sting directed at a former trial court law clerk resulted in a bizarre and troubling case of attorney misconduct. Professor Sorenson explored the ethical implications of this case in a law review article and presented his findings to a national audience of attorneys employed by state and federal appellate courts.
The Bar Counsel v. Curry lawyers, convinced that the trial judge who presided over an important case was prejudiced against their clients, set up a false job interview for a “dream job” for the judge’s former law clerk. The lawyers hoped that they could get the clerk to reveal information about that judge’s deliberations, which would show bias and prejudice against the lawyers’ clients. The recommended disbarment, which was eventually imposed by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, was based on the lawyer’s deceit and misrepresentations.
“However, what received relatively little attention,” notes Professor Sorenson, “is the fact that these lawyers made a blatant effort to invade the confidential relationship between a judge and law clerk on the assumption that the information that former law clerks have about the judges for whom they clerked is ‘fair game’ for acquisition.”
Sorenson was intrigued by the case and made an in-depth examination of whether a lawyer’s mere act of attempting to obtain confidential information from a former judicial law clerk violates accepted standards of lawyer conduct and is sufficiently prejudicial to the administration of justice so as to justify discipline. His article, “Are Law Clerks Fair Game? Invading Judicial Confidentiality,” appeared in the Valparaiso University Law Review.
In 2011 he shared his conclusions with attorneys from across the country as a featured presenter at The National Association of Appellate Court Attorneys annual conference.
Galway Summer Program
Professor Sorenson directed New England Law | Boston’s Summer Program on International and Comparative Rights Law, based in Galway, Ireland, from 2002 to 2006. The program is offered by the Irish Centre for Human Rights at the National University of Ireland and the Consortium for Innovative Legal Education, Inc., which is made up of four independent ABA- and AALS-accredited American law schools, including New England Law.
The summer program’s magnificent setting forms the backdrop to a critical exploration of national and international legal systems. “Exposure to other countries’ views of legal doctrines allows a better critical analysis of our own system,” says Sorenson. “New England Law students are joined by peers from other institutions and visiting scholars in a wide-ranging six-week program.”
Professor Sorenson taught “Comparative Enforcement of Civil Rights” as part of the program. Galway courses vary from year to year and regularly touch on topics of current special interest. For example, courses offered in 2011 include “American Intelligence Activities under a Human Rights Model,” which considers CIA activities and Predator drone strikes, and “Business Enterprises and Human Rights,” taught by New England Law Professor Gary Monserud, which examines exploitation, discrimination, and loss or defacement of cultural treasures or religious traditions, among other topics.
Bringing real-life experience into the classroom.
Professor Sorenson’s teaching and scholarly contributions are complemented by volunteer service to his community, the historic town of Harrisville, NH. He has served as chair of the Trustees of Trust Funds and as a member of the Zoning Board of Adjustment.
“Because of my legal training and involvement at New England Law | Boston, I’ve developed experiences and skills that are very useful to my community,” he says. “My volunteer work is valuable to both the town and the law school, and it has actually informed my legal work here at New England Law as well. It’s helped me to learn more about the law, and I bring my real-life experience into the classroom.”
How to best serve a client’s interests is one of many critical aspects of lawyering that Professor Sorenson is routinely reminded of through his volunteer work. “I’ve shared some of the things that I’ve witnessed on the Zoning Board with my Civil Procedure students. It should seem obvious, but it’s always worth emphasizing the critical importance of lawyers being familiar with the rules of the tribunal that they are appearing before! When students learn what can go wrong in situations like this–and how thorough preparation can speed the process–it really hammers home points that will help them throughout their legal careers.”