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Judge DePaul offers hands-on training for Stetson and Cooley law students

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Circuit Training participants

Students from Stetson University College of Law and Thomas M. Cooley Law School spent a day at the Hillsborough County Courthouse learning what to expect when they become member of the Bar. Judge Wendy DePaul created the “Circuit Training: An Exercise in Practical Lawyering” seminar. “When I took the bench, after 23 years of practice, I quickly discovered how much I did not know about our circuit,” Judge DePaul said.  “This seminar is a way to help these students in their future practice of law, so that they know about resources that are available to them along with some practical tips for practice and professionalism.”

The 13th Judicial Circuit Court recently invited students from Stetson University College of Law and Thomas M. Cooley Law School to the Hillsborough County Courthouse for the inaugural seminar “Circuit Training: An Exercise in Practical Lawyering.”

The daylong training, created by Judge Wendy DePaul, offered the students practical instruction using a common sense approach in what to expect when they return to the courthouse as attorneys.

“I wanted the students to see how the court operates on a daily basis, from an operational and practical perspective,” said Judge DePaul.

Learning the law in the classroom is what law schools do.  But Judge DePaul wanted to take that learning into the courthouse for a hands-on educational experience.

“When I took the bench, after 23 years of practice, I quickly discovered how much I did not know about our circuit,” Judge DePaul said.  “This seminar is a way to help these students in their future practice of law, so that they know about resources that are available to them along with some practical tips for practice and professionalism.”

Nineteen students from Cooley and 16 from Stetson accepted the invitation, getting a taste of the circuit and learning what takes place behind the scenes at the courthouse.

A major component of the training were specific sessions DePaul designed with input from Associate Professor Christine Cerniglia of  Stetson College of Law and Professor Christine Church of Cooley Law School that introduced the students to people and ideas that could help them in practicing law in the future.

“Unlike an internship, where a law student is typically in court observing the legal process, and learning the what-to-do aspects of the law,” Judge DePaul explained, “I wanted to focus on helping them learn the how-to-do aspects of the law.”

Chief Judge Ronald Ficarrotta and Trial Court Administrator Gina Justice greeted the students with coffee and donuts, and gave them a brief overview of the courthouse from an operational standpoint.

Other sessions included Cindy Stuart, the Hillsborough County Clerk of Court, sharing how lawyers now e-file documents with the court and why that’s important.

The students observed criminal, family, and civil court, and met with several of the judges of the 13th Circuit’s Problem Solving Courts, which many of the students didn’t know existed.

“Now in practice they will know this is an available resource if a case fits those parameters,” said Judge DePaul.

Jena Hudson, manager of Bay Area Legal Services, reminded the students of the ethical commitment and responsibility of each lawyer to offer their assistance to provide access to justice for low-income people.

One of the more practical sessions dealt with how to communicate and work effectively with judicial assistants.  It was lead by several seasoned judicial assistants.

Even the lunch, sponsored by the Hillsborough County Bar Association Young Lawyers Division, was a learning experience.  Lyndsey Siara, president of the YLD, informed the students about the section so they can begin networking even before taking the bar exam.

Judge DePaul said this practical knowledge is important to being a well-rounded practitioner.

“Coming out of law school many of these future lawyers do not have this information,” DePaul said. “Unless they are paired with a mentor, who knows if they would ever receive some of this information.”

Judge DePaul plans to host additional seminars and she wants to invite students from schools outside the Tampa Bay area who might ultimately practice in the 13th Circuit.

Jessica Sivillo, a student at Cooley Law, said she was “thrilled and very grateful” for the practical training.

Another student, while leaving the courthouse, was overheard delivering an insightful and concise assessment of the day, “that was awesome.”

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