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Judicial observation internships provide valuable learning for foreign lawyers

From pre-trial motions to sentence hearings, nine Penn State Law LL.M. students from around the world are experiencing the American legal system firsthand as interns in Penn State Law’s LL.M. Judicial Observation Internship program.

From pre-trial motions to sentence hearings, nine Penn State Law LL.M. students from around the world are experiencing the American legal system firsthand as interns in Penn State Law’s LL.M. Judicial Observation Internship program. Paired with a Pennsylvania state trial court judge, students spend an intensive, five weeks observing various civil and criminal litigation proceedings brought before the court.

By observing and analyzing actions of lawyers and judges in the courtroom, students experience different advocacy techniques, and U.S. legal principles in action. Under the supervision of a Penn State Law professor, students research answers to legal questions for actual cases pending before the court. They also have the opportunity to hone their legal writing skills by writing a judicial opinion about a case they have observed.

“The really surprising thing is that before I came, I thought the judges wouldn’t have time to talk with us. Actually they spare as much time as possible to help us understand the cases. They really care about us,” said Dongfan Hong, a 2013 LL.M. graduate and intern with Centre County Court of Common Pleas Judge Thomas K. Kistler ’82. “Every time a trial ends, the judge asks, ‘Did you understand that? Did you learn a lot?’”

“Our interns observe a variety of proceedings at all stages of litigation, from pre-trial motions and jury selection, to trials and criminal sentencing hearings. Through these observations, the interns begin to develop real world context for their studies in school,” explained legal writing instructor Anna Sewell.

Hong’s internship has allowed him to observe a wide range of both civil and criminal law cases. In the course of one day, he observed an adoption hearing, a criminal case, pre-trial motions, and a preliminary hearing.

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