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NIU College of Law Students Gain Valuable Experience During Summer Months

September 29, 2016

DeKalb, Ill.--Northern Illinois University College of Law second-year students took their newly-acquired knowledge outside the classroom this summer. From judicial clerkships to community activism, the new 2Ls found practical applications for the skills they developed over their first year in law school.

Hayley Botts was “able to use all of the information that [she] learned in the classroom and apply it to the courtroom” during her internship with the DeKalb County State’s Attorney’s Office. She described her time there as “one of the best and most rewarding experiences I have ever had.” Botts also helped to launch a drop-in center for human trafficking victims with the Rockford Alliance against Sexual Exploitation. Through this work, she made connections that will aid her in advocating for the victims of violent crimes throughout law school and her career. She explained that “I have networked with several organizations within Rockford and have created close relationships with several attorneys and leaders within the Rockford community.”

Alexander Yorko continued developing his legal research and writing skills as a judicial clerk for the judges of the 23rd Judicial Circuit. An APPLE Assistantship provided a stipend, and the diverse subject matter kept him engaged and built on the knowledge he gained over the past nine months. Yorko explained that “on one day, I could be working on a contracts [case], and on the next day, I could be working on a family law or criminal case. I am improving my research and writing skills and I get to be in a court room on some days.”

Nicole O’Connor balanced her work for a firm that focuses on personal injury and workers’ compensation with her efforts to prevent the establishment of a puppy mill in Winnebago County. Nicole found challenge and fulfillment in both, explaining that “I like being the voice for those who can’t speak for themselves.”

Andrew Morris enjoyed hands-on experience as a law clerk for the firm Klein, Stoddard, Buck, & Lewis. He described his experience as “a nearly perfect balance of office work combined with seeing it all play out in the courtroom. I haven’t been bored once, yet.”

Keith Stiggers and Andrew Mertzenich spent the summer studying international and comparative law in France under both Northern Law faculty and the law faculty of the University of Bordeaux-Montesquieu IV. Stiggers described his study abroad experience as “remarkable” due to the understanding he gained of the civil law system. He credited the basic skills he acquired during his first year with allowing him to appreciate the experience fully. “Using those basic skills I am able to compare the civil and common law systems. Both systems have much to learn from one another,” Stiggers said.

Mertzenich echoed this sentiment, adding that “learning the difference between European and American legal systems has been so beneficial.” During the study abroad program, NIU Law students also benefit from time with French law faculty and practitioners and from exposure to the European style of teaching, which emphasizes discussion and lectures, rather than presenting cases. Students also take advantage of France’s culture and scenery by accompanying French law students on numerous academic and leisure trips, such as observing in local and national courts, enjoying behind-the-scenes presentations at the French Senate and National Assembly in Paris and the French Supreme Court, touring the national judicial school in Bordeaux, and visiting France’s breathtaking mountains and Atlantic beaches.

James LeVault obtained a clerkship with the Honorable Frederick Kapala in the Western Division of the Northern District of Illinois. Through this experience, LeVault gained greater understanding and appreciation for the work of judicial clerks, describing Judge Kapala’s as “truly amazing people who take great pride and go to great lengths to ensure that the law is applied appropriately.” LeVault was able to jump right into the meat of the work by researching and writing orders. His ability to do so was undoubtedly due to the training he received at Northern Law. He explained that “my Basic Legal Research and Legal Writing courses both developed skills that I used on a daily basis.” Professor Taylor’s emphasis on a holistic understanding of the Rules of Civil Procedure also proved to be invaluable to LeVault. “Every day in the judge’s chamber, I see the Rules of Civil Procedure at play and I am appreciative of the knowledge I gained from that class,” LeVault added.

David White spent his summer clerking for the judges of the Kendall County Courthouse. White was challenged and intellectually stimulated by his time there, stating that “[t]aking the skills learned from the classes of legal writing and legal research and using them every day has been incredibly rewarding. The internship experience has broadened my awareness of the courtroom and the legal profession as a whole.” His experience was not limited to time researching and writing in chambers or observing in the courtroom; he was able to ride along with sheriffs and observe an autopsy. White goes so far as to state that he “cannot imagine having done anything else this summer that would have been as beneficial as an internship.” He views this positive experience as a result of “the time spent in class at NIU Law focusing on not only legal studies, but also on career success.”

While these students applied their knowledge in diverse settings, all gained experience and prepared for another successful year at Northern Law.

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