By Julie Hamilton, J.D. ’16
As I trudged through growing piles of snow blanketing the Boston sidewalks in January 2015, I was unsure what awaited me at Boston Municipal Court (BMC). It was the first day of my clinical component of the Judicial Process in Trial Courts Clinic, and, embarrassingly, it was the first day I ever stepped inside a community court. After a semester of observing courtroom proceedings, discussing cases with a BMC judge, and sitting in on attorney-judge conferences, I can say sincerely that the clinic was worth that first trek in the snow and each one that followed.
For many people, a community court is the first, and most, interaction they will have with the judicial process; what happens in that courthouse shapes their perceptions of their city’s, their state’s, their country’s justice system and can impact their lives in deep and lasting ways. The Judicial Process in Trial Courts Clinic not only enabled me to step away from the Chevrons of law school into the messy intersection of real life and the law, but it also provided me with unfettered access to a uniquely experienced guide and interpreter—a judge.
Perhaps what surprised me most about my clinical experience was the willingness of the judge for whom I worked to give me honest, thorough answers to the many questions I asked. In his chambers at the end of the day, we discussed why the judge decided as he did on motions or fees or sentences; how lawyers’ courtroom behaviors or actions struck the judge and what that meant; why something unfolded the way it had in court that day; and issues pertaining to and affecting local, state, and national judicial processes. I observed arraignments, motion hearings, civil trials, criminal trials, and sentencing. I sat in front of the judge’s bench with his clerk, so I was privy to sidebars and pertinent documents. I witnessed skillful and not-as-skillful lawyering, and, from that, developed a better sense of what kind of attorney I hope to be. I saw a part of the justice system that Massachusetts residents see, and I learned, a lot.
As my impending graduation begins to sink in, I have started to reflect on my time at HLS. The Judicial Process in Trial Courts Clinic, for the opportunity it gave me to pick a judge’s brain on a weekly basis and all it taught me about the community court system, stands out as a highlight.