by Hon. John C. Cratsley (Ret.)

The U.S. District Court, 1 Courthouse Way, Boston, Massachusetts. Credit: Tony Rinaldo

Working remotely since March 23th, students in this spring’s Judicial Process in Trial Courts Clinic provided over 2,200 hours of legal research and drafting for Massachusetts trial judges.  The clinic included 24 students placed with judges in the U.S. District Court, the Massachusetts Superior Court, and the Roxbury, Dorchester and Quincy community courts. One LL.M student, a judge from Korea, added an important international perspective to our class sessions. In addition to the time spent doing court observation and in conversation with their judges, the students’ legal research and writing are a valuable addition to the heavy work load already carried by existing law clerks. In fact, these extra hours are particularly significant in the Massachusetts state courts due to their limited law clerk budgets. Because of this reality, students placed with state court judges found themselves working directly, one-on-one, with their judges on a variety of needed research and writing.   Student evaluations describe their satisfaction with the opportunity to make this added contribution as well as learn from it:

“I had a lot of opportunity to grow my skills of legal analysis with real-time discussions and my opportunities for feedback on written work were in-depth and highly valuable.”

“Direct feedback on memos and opinion drafts helped me understand how to structure writing.”

“Absolutely amazing experience which I would recommend to anyone. It’s a fabulous learning environment, not just for research and writing skills, but also helped me to appreciate what it means to be a judge.”

Whether in federal court or state court, clinic students worked on a wide range of substantive matters, from motions to dismiss indictments and suppress evidence in the criminal sessions of the Suffolk Superior Court to motions to dismiss or for summary judgement in civil cases in federal court. The variety of their assignments included reviewing habeas corpus petitions, motions for new trial, discrimination claims, freedom of information act litigation, and judicial review of federal and state agency decisions. And as the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic arrived, clinic students worked on timely issues including the legality of remote proceedings in civil and criminal cases, the release of ICE detainees for risk of contracting the virus, and eligibility for unemployment compensation.

These thousands of hours of student legal assistance to busy judges with demanding caseloads, urgent issues, and limited resources represents yet another of the valuable contributions of HLS clinics.  For our students and the judges, this is a win-win clinic. As one student put it, “I love being in court, and I loved the attention from the judge and the clerk, who were both fantastic attorneys and made sure I was getting meaningful experience, both witnessing interesting things and providing work that was actually useful.”