By Hon. John C. Cratsley (Ret.)
Twenty-seven HLS students, the largest group ever enrolled in the Judicial Process in Trial Courts Clinic and Class, are well into their work with judges throughout the Massachusetts trial courts. Their judicial internships include the U.S. District Court for Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Superior Court, various Divisions of the Boston Municipal Court, and the Newton District Court. Three LLM students are participating including one judge from Korea. Student placements are nicely balanced between the federal court, the Superior Court, and a variety of community courts throughout the neighborhoods of Boston.
Student observations about their experiences during the semester reinforce the value of direct exposure to the realities of our judicial system. A sample of their reflection papers describe different but equally valuable insights:
“…, I can already tell that this clinic will be an invaluable experience for an aspiring litigator. The opportunity to experience firsthand a trial judge’s decision-making adds a practical dimension to something which had been, for the most part, purely academic.”
“A good lawyer clearly has to treat folks with respect and maintain those relationships on a daily basis. You never know when you’ll need them.”
“Attending the hearing was very enlightening but also very sad. Witnessing a real defendant receive a sentence with her family sitting behind her puts into perspective how many lives are impacted by the judicial system every day.”
“Only one defense attorney was a person of color. The disparity made me extremely uncomfortable – here I was witnessing a body of white people locking up black folks. This was the exact dynamic I had studied in college and worked on in various internships addressing criminal justice reform. It was hard to observe in real life.”
“Essentially I got to see what it is like being chastised by a judge who is extremely unhappy with counsel’s conduct. I’ll certainly keep that lesson in mind and carefully read judicial orders when I am practicing.”
“My judge exemplified many of the features extolled in the Excellent Judges reading. The sentence was not a “mathematical” or “logical” application of the guidelines, it was based on his practice with recidivism, his experience of the human character, and his knowledge.”
Whether gaining insight into judicial reasoning, learning lessons for future practice, or observing justice issues in real time, every student in this clinic is broadening their understanding of the judicial process in trial courts.