Trial and Error: A Summer of learning as U.S. Judge Beth Bloom’s interns
Trials. Sentencings. Cross-examinations. Prosecutors. Public defenders. For burgeoning first-year law students, such terms are abstract, referenced only in dense casebooks and classroom lectures. When you intern for United States District Judge Beth Bloom, however, those terms come to life in court, right before your very eyes.
As Judge Bloom’s 2022 Summer Interns, we must admit that at the outset of the eight-week program in early June, we had no way of imagining the broad and illuminating summer that lay ahead of us. Despite arriving in Miami from law schools across the country – Cornell University, Emory University, University of Miami, University of Florida, and St. Thomas University – we each approached the internship with the same blank slates of hands-on legal knowledge. Nonetheless, we also possessed deep desires to observe, learn, and realize our place in the legal field, characteristics that Judge Bloom recognized when she provided us with blank notepads on the very first day of the internship. She urged that we leverage those deep desires and write down every tidbit of wisdom we absorbed over the course of the summer, assuring our group of six interns that if we put our time and energy into the internship program, we would end the summer with priceless knowledge and memories. As our internship comes to a close, it is safe to say that we heeded Judge Bloom’s advice, as evidenced by some of our most valuable takeaways seen below:
REMAIN AMBITIOUS BUT KEEP AN OPEN MIND
Success in the legal field can take many shapes, sizes, and paths; as such, it is important for young lawyers to keep an open mind as they start their careers. This insight was made clear to us via the internship’s “Conversations with the Court” program, where we had intimate conversations with circuit judges on the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, district and magistrate judges on the Southern District of Florida, and judges from various immigration and bankruptcy courts. Each judge shared his/her career path, perspectives on judging and the legal practice, advice about law schools and our future careers, and answered questions along the way. One such judge was the Robin Rosenberg, whose path to the bench included stints in public service as an assistant United States attorney, private practice at Holland & Knight, and academia teaching for a nonprofit legal organization in Chechnya. In explaining her winding road to the federal bench, Judge Rosenberg emphasized the value of an open mind; although young lawyers may not be able to control the economy, government, or hiring practices of their dream firm, they can nonetheless control their eagerness to learn new things; such eagerness may oftentimes lend itself to interesting and unforeseen job opportunities, which young lawyers and students should embrace. “After all,” Judge Rosenberg stressed, “in such a broad and diverse industry, there is rarely a linear path to success.”
As we progressed through the “Conversations with the Court” program, several other speakers recounted their differing paths to the bench – Judge Jose Martinez, for example, was a Navy legal officer in the 1960s, an assistant United State attorney in the 1970s, and a private practitioner in the 1980s and 1990s, excelling across each prior role to his appointment to the federal bench by President George W. Bush in 2002. Judge Kathleen Williams, on the other hand, rose through the ranks of the Federal Public Defender’s Office to become both the federal public defender for the Southern District of Florida, as well as the acting federal public defender for the Middle District of Florida, prior to her appointment by President Barack Obama. United States District Judge Joel Slomsky, from the Eastern District of Philadelphia, emphasized the importance of clarity and tone in our writing and quoted Mark Twain in emphasizing that “the difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.” United States District Judge Rodolpho Ruiz emphasized the importance of an attorney’s reputation and credibility. And how, ultimately, reputation and trust are built case by case through preparation and civility.
The candid judicial wisdom expressed throughout our discussions taught us to remain ambitious as we start our careers but remain cognizant that there are many ways to reach our goals.
LITIGATING ENTAILS MUCH MORE THAN ORAL ADVOCACY
Contrary to popular belief, the loudest voice in the courtroom does not always win – or at least, not in federal court. As part of the internship program, every intern had the opportunity to simulate the federal litigation process, which included the writing of a bench memorandum and an oral argument before Judge Bloom; both the memo and the oral argument centered around a pending motion, allowing us to work on a truly substantive matter and become invested in our arguments.
As part of said simulated litigation process, we came to realize the outsized importance of writing within federal courts. After all, while the pageantry of litigation takes place in the courtroom – where advocates can shine and factors such as body language become critical – it was our memos, and the weeks of research and preparation that formed our arguments regarding the motion, that helped inform Judge Bloom’s opinion. Judge Bloom tested our speaking ability and preparation throughout the oral argument, peppering us with specific, technical questions regarding the cases cited in our memos. As such, we learned that success in writing-intensive federal courts is not unequivocally linked to pure speaking ability, but rather, is tied to one’s ability to convince the judge over the weeks and months leading up to trial through a well-reasoned and persuasive memorandum. Ultimately, writing the memorandum was the best method of preparing for oral argument.
IT’S MORE THAN JUST A WILL TO WIN, BUT A WILL TO PREPARE
Every attorney has the will to win, but not every attorney has the will to prepare. This was made clear via the “Learning from the Legends” program. Howard Srebnick, a legend in the criminal defense field, emphasized the importance of seeking opportunities for preparation, such as moots and listening to oral arguments. Roy Black, another legend in the criminal defense field, provided us with the anecdote of former President Barack Obama’s 17-minute keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. A 17-minute keynote address he labored over for weeks, scribbling down ideas on paper and rehearsing the speech several times before delivering it. Black noted it was President Obama’s over-preparation that captured the nation’s attention, and Black stressed it is a law student’s or an attorney’s over-preparation that captures the attention of fellow attorneys, judges, and jurors. H.T Smith inspired us with his own pioneering path with many firsts – first Miami African-American assistant public defenders, first African-American assistant county attorney, and member of the first Black-owned law firm in Miami. Smith taught us the importance of courage and resilience in the face of injustice.
FINDING YOUR PATH
Law school can be overwhelming. A single year of introductory doctrinal classes is often insufficient exposure for students expected to know what subset of the law to practice – this is especially true for first-generation students. Ultimately, while law school may teach students the theoretical foundation of the law, the pragmatic reality of everyday practice remains a mystery; that is, until you partake in an internship as insightful as this one!
As Judge Bloom’s interns, we were given the clues to decipher the aforementioned puzzle that is the legal industry. During our eight-week summer program, we had the opportunity to visit the United States Attorney’s Office, the Federal Public Defender’s Office, the 11th Circuit, magistrate court, state court, juvenile court, and the United States Marshal’s Office. Such exposure to different areas of legal practice allowed us to experience the realities of everyday practice, across a variety of specialties. Not only was this a fantastic learning opportunity, but it was also personally impactful and transformative for many of us. While some of us may have approached this internship with a steadfast belief in a particularly linear career path, our exposure over the past eight weeks have caused some of us to diverge, or in some cases even abandon, our preconceived trajectories. Although we may not yet know enough to solve the grand mystery that is the legal profession, we’ve certainly spent this summer gathering the clues.
INTROSPECTION THROUGH OBSERVATION
Our experience this summer has shown us how a court truly lives and breathes. While attending sentencings, we witnessed individuals stare directly at the possibility of years in federal prison, often in the midst of the singular worst day of their life. We heard their apologies to the court, alongside their descriptions of how life’s trials and tribulations have influenced their decisions. Not every individual and situation are the same, but we found many themes to be universal: Chief among them the notion that crime is a product of desperation rather than greed, borne out of a desire to provide for loved ones. Remorse is often expressed via sobs and cries. In the face of so much emotion, some interns were overcome by passion and decided against a career in prosecution, while others further solidified their belief in the reality that actions require consequences, regardless of circumstances. Ultimately, in getting a front row seat to this entire process, we discovered the kind of attorney we want to be.
This experience was one of the many reasons why the internship was so valuable. Not only were we able to witness a wide variety of court proceedings, but we had the opportunity to emotionally involve ourselves in the cases.
SEEING THE BIG PICTURE
Attending different courts has given us a more comprehensive view of the judicial system. Few law students have the opportunity to intern for a judge. Fewer still intern for an Article III judge. During our first week in chambers, we had no exposure to courts, judges, and lawyers outside of the federal system. We only knew how to parse through briefs with complex legal arguments and fact patterns.
Judge Bloom went out of her way to make sure that we were exposed to proceedings in family court, state circuit court, and traffic court. We observed the entire jury trial of a pro se defendant in a manslaughter case at the Richard E. Gerstein Justice Building. We also watched the state negotiate a plea agreement with a man accused of heinous sexual crimes. Without these experiences, we would have a far less comprehensive view of what the justice system does and what it looks like for everyday people. Our profession doesn’t just deal with contractual disputes between large corporate entities. Exposure such as this had a profound impact on some of us, and more importantly, helped us more clearly see the forks each of our careers might take as we register for classes in the fall.
To conclude, we’d like to note that the key takeaways listed above encompass a small portion of the priceless memories and knowledge we absorbed through the eight-week summer internship program. Some of the most valuable experiences, of course, are intangible – after all, how can we quantify or describe the value of a chat by the fridge with a helpful law clerk, or a brief morning checkup by Judge Bloom herself? To truly get the most out of some experiences, you’ve simply got to be there.
With that said, we would like to extend our sincerest thanks to Judge Bloom, her incredible courtroom deputy, and her talented team of law clerks. Each of them had a crucial and everlasting impact upon our personal and professional lives, and for that, we will be forever grateful.