by Noelle Lagueux-Alvarez
Judges across Georgia have been hosting twenty-seven law students for summer clerkships as part of the Georgia Latino Law Foundation’s (“GLLF”) Virtual Judicial Internship Program. In mid-April, the founder and director of the GLLF, Ana Maria Martinez, had a lightbulb moment. She’d been hearing stories of law students who, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, had lost their summer employment plans at law firms, many of them during their 2L summer—an important time for hands-on learning. She set out to remedy that situation. She knew she couldn’t pay them, but she also knew she could work with others to provide them with invaluable experience. Ms. Martinez is the staff attorney to the Hon. Dax Lopez of the DeKalb County State Court and she assembled a committee to organize a program that came together with lightning speed—launching on Monday, June 8, 2020, with plans to conclude on Friday, July 10, 2020. Presiding Judge Sara Doyle of the Court of Appeals, who is hosting an intern this summer, noted, “I really can’t say enough good things about Ana Maria Martinez and the law students who really worked hard to pull the program together in a very short period of time.” Cobb County Chief Magistrate Court Judge Brendan Murphy, who is also hosting an intern this summer, thanks the GLLF for “ensuring students have a meaningful opportunity to gain valuable experience this summer, even in the face of a pandemic.” Judge Murphy adds that the new program is “thorough, well-planned, and has made it easy for me to focus on providing an impactful internship experience.”
Ms. Martinez was “pleased” and “blown away” by the response of Georgia judges because this program is not just an internship, it is also a mentoring program. She says, “the heart of the success of this program was bringing together the judicial community.” Judges from at least ten different counties and several classes of court, including the Court of Appeals, superior courts, state courts, magistrate courts, and juvenile courts, have been serving as host judges.
The GLLF has put together a rigorous program with a robust orientation focused on ethics, professionalism, and adding value to chambers; a workbook and other written materials; three mandatory workshops presented by: (1) a financial advisor covering financial concerns of law students such as budgeting and student loan repayment, (2) the president of the State Bar’s Young Lawyers Division about the importance of Bar leadership experience, and (3) on July 9, 2020, Chief Justice Melton is slated to address this year’s class of interns; best practices on working from home, two mentoring meetings per week with the judge, ad hoc workshops as needed; virtual social events such as a trivia night; and a “capstone project” in the form of a research memo on an emergent issue of law. The GLLF intends to consolidate all of the capstone projects into a single volume as a gift of appreciation to the judiciary. Judge Doyle shared that “the most important part of the program is the capstone project” and “the program’s success is due to the structure put in place for the judges and interns to follow.” Judge Murphy adds that the capstone project is an “innovative approach to provide a concrete and helpful final product for the student and mentor alike.”
Georgia judges and the GLLF have come together to provide a well-rounded internship experience. For example, one ad hoc workshop focused on the importance of maintaining confidential information especially at this time when so many people are working from home with roommates or family around. Another ad hoc workshop focused on billing—a topic that would have been addressed at firms and that the program did not want the interns to miss. Having a “billing” component also allowed chambers to review what interns had accomplished each day as they worked from home.
Ms. Martinez believes that “success comes at the intersection of aptitude and connections” and is thrilled that this program has connected so many talented law Ms. Martinez believes that “success comes at the intersection of aptitude and connections” and is thrilled that this program has connected so many talented law students with learning opportunities. It is hoped that this program will serve as a model for other virtual judicial internships especially by rural judges who—due to sheer geography—may have difficulty hosting law students especially during the academic year. In a typical judge/staff attorney exchange, Judge Lopez asked Ms. Martinez why they were not hosting a specific intern this summer. She explained, “because we’re hosting twenty-seven!” The GLLF expresses its sincere gratitude to all participating judges.