Campus: CSU Northridge -- February 21, 2005

Semester Spent at Judges' Sides Provides CSUN Students Unusual Insight Into the Law

The conversations between lawyers and judges aren't always the easiest to follow, nor is the courtroom action as exciting as an episode of "Law and Order."

But as one Cal State Northridge student put it, a semester in the university's judicial internship program can be a life changing experience.

"Law is not as exciting as it is on television and going through this program will scare you straight one way or the other--either law is for you or it isn't," said CSUN junior Jonathan Corcoran, a political science major. "This internship showed me what practicing law is really like and gave me insight into whether I have the skills to do it or not. I would recommend it to anyone who is even thinking about going into law. It's an eye-opening experience."

The judicial internship program is a unique collaborative arrangement between Northridge's Department of Political Science and the Los Angeles County Superior Courts in the San Fernando Valley.

Each semester for the past 15 years, the program has assigned approximately 15 students to judges, either civil or criminal, in the Van Nuys, Chatsworth and San Fernando courthouses. The students then spend a semester shadowing the judges as they hear motions, conference with attorneys, weigh briefs and preside over trials.

The judges spend time with the students, discussing the cases they are observing. They frequently allow the students to sit in on conferences that are not usually open to the public.

"In addition to spending time with their assigned judges, the students are encouraged to visit other courtrooms so they get a sense of what happens in different courtrooms with different bench officers and different kinds of cases," said Lawrence Becker, assistant professor of political science and director of the program.

Becker said most of the students in the program have some interest in attending law school.

"One of the major goals of the program is to provide the students with a clear sense of what the legal profession is about so that they can decide whether it is the right career path for them," he said.

The program attracts students from a wide variety of majors, including political science, psychology, sociology and business law.

"Virtually every student who has participated in the program raves about how much they learned and how much they enjoyed the experience," Becker said.

He said the judges who participate in the program "volunteer a tremendous amount of time and energy both in making themselves available to the students and, in many cases, in mentoring young people interested in a career in law."

Becker pointed out that one judge who regularly participates in the program says the students who go through the internships emerge with "a big head start relative to their peers in law school, many of whom go through three years of legal schooling without ever stepping foot in a courtroom."

Corcoran, who spent last semester at the side of a judge in Van Nuys, said the experience made him determined to go to law school. Being privy to the gritty details of three trials gave him greater appreciation for the skills of trial lawyers.

"They have to be comfortable speaking in front of people, they need to be able to determine the mood of the people in the courtroom, and they have to be pretty sure of themselves because so much is at stake," Corcoran said. "I don't think I can do that, but I do know I want to go into law, so I think contract law might be where I end up."

Senior Henrik Karapetian, a business law major, has only been in the program a few weeks, but said it already has him reassessing his plans for the future.

"This experience is giving me an opportunity to see what it is really like to practice law, and it's not like it is on television. A lot of it can be boring and slow, but at the same time full of stress," he said.

He added that recent health problems have caused him to reconsider if a stressful career as a lawyer is right for him.

"I don't know," he said, "we'll have to see what happens with my health. But I'm already learning so much from this internship, and it's only just started."

Contact: Carmen Ramos Chandler, (818) 677-2130, carmen.chandler@csun.edu


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