There are several opportunities to work with the court while you are still in law school. You can work with the federal district court, the state appellate court, the state supreme court, the state trial court, or the state staff attorney's office. These opportunities are available during the fall, spring and summer terms. Externships with judges are highly coveted because they are excellent opportunities for students to gain practical experience and work closely with a judge.
Duties and Responsibilities
For each of the externships offered through the school, the majority of the work will consist of research and writing orders for the judge. Most externships also provide for the opportunity to attend hearings or oral arguments. Externs work closely with the judge's staff and the courthouse personnel.
Students must have completed all of their first year courses to be eligible for a judicial externship. Most judges prefer students with at least 45 credit hours. Judges are typically looking for students who are in the top 20% of their class and who did very well in research and writing. They stongly prefer law review and/or moot court experience. While judges sometimes make exceptions for students who do not meet these qualifications, it is rare.
A judicial externship counts toward your graduation hours and your skills requirement. Students typically earn between 3 and 6 credit hours for an externship. All of these credits are non-course credit hours. The number of hours students work at the externship placement depends on the total number of credt hours and ranges from 135 to 280. Students must complete an online classroom component which consists of weekly in-person/online classes (depending on the location of the externship), 3 in person meetings with the externship coordinator, and 5 reflective journals. All of the externship credits are graded on a high pass/ pass/ low pass/ fail scale.
Students are limited to 12 externship or clinic hours and 15 total non-course credit hours during their matriculation at the law school. These maximums are waived for students participating in externships with the Florida Supreme Court and the Florida District Courts of Appeals (see below). See the Student Handbook for an explanation of non-course credit hours.
Long Distance Externships
Students working at the Supreme Court or a DCA are eligible to receive up to a $2,500 scholarship from the school to assist with housing expenses for the semester.
Florida Supreme Court
The externship with the Florida Supreme Court is a full time externship that can be taken for up to 12 credits in the fall and spring semester and 6 in the summer. The Supreme Court is located in Tallahassee so students participating in this externship will live in Tallahassee for the semester. The Supreme Court will accept 1 to 2 students a semester. Each extern works full-time at the Court performing many of the same functions as the law clerks. Externs also have the opportunity to attend oral arguments before the Court. Students must have their clearance certificate from the Florida Bar, be in the top 20% of their class to be eligible, and preference is given to third year students.
Florida First and Fifth District Courts of Appeals
The judicial externship with the First District Court of Appeal, which is also located in Tallahassee, is similar to that with the Florida Supreme Court. Students who are selected will be assigned to an appellate judge and will work in the judge's chambers during the semester. While this externship can be done on a part-time basis, most students work full time at the Court earning twelve credit hours during the regular semester. An exception is made to the normal 9 credit limit for placements and the normal limit of 12 non-course credit hours, which is increased to 15. Students who participate in the summer earn 6 credit hours. The First DCA will accept between 1 and 5 students a semester. Only third year students who have completed criminal procedure and have above a 3.0 GPA are eligible.
The Fifth District Court of Appeals is located in Daytona Beach. Students are eligible to do this externship for 12 credits, but students can also do the externship for 6 credits. Students working at the 5th DCA can either move to Daytona Beach for the semester or commute to the court 1 or 2 days a week and then work at home the remaining days to fulfill their hours.
Federal District Court
The federal district court externships are with the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida in Jacksonville. Students have the opportunity to work for magistrate judges and district court judges. The federal court judges are generally looking for students in the top 25% of their class. Students are also encouraged to seek out opportunities for externships in federal courts in other cities and states, especially for the summer (see long distance externships below). Between 2 and 5 students are typically placed with the district court in a given semester.
State Trial Court
The judicial staff attorney's office is the office within the state court where attorneys do research and writing for judges on pending cases. Staff attorneys are very similar to clerks except that they work for all of the judges instead of being assigned to one particular judge. The staff attorney’s office in the Duval County Courthouse routinely take two students a semester – one to work on criminal cases and one to work on civil cases. There are also occasionally individual judges will have students work directly with them in chambers.
The staff attorney’s office in St. John’s County also takes two students a semester. One of the circuit court judges also routinely takes several students a semester to assist with circuit court cases with an emphasis on foreclosure cases. There is also a judge in Bunnell (one hour south of Jacksonville) who routinely takes a student every semester to work on civil and criminal cases.
Long Distance Externships
If students are able to secure a judicial externship on their own in a court other than the ones listed above, or even in another state or area of Florida, that externship will probably qualify for credit. However, the externship placement needs to be approved by the Externship Supervisor before a student will be able to receive credit for it. Students will need to provide the Center for Professional Development with the contact information for the judge or the court via a "Student Found Externship" survey on Symplicity so that they can determine if the externship will qualify for credit. They offer an excellent opportunity for students to learn about the court system and procedural rules in different locales and to network with attorneys in the state or city where they may practice law.
If you have questions about judicial externships please contact the Center for Professional Development at firstname.lastname@example.org.