Debbie Wong is originally from Needham, Massachusetts. She earned her B.S. in Commerce from the University of Virginia. She spent her1L summer working at the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Hearings and Appeals, and her 2L summer at K&L Gates LLP in Washington, D.C. After graduation, she will be clerking for Federal Chief Judge Glen Conrad in Roanoke, Virginia for a year before returning to K&L Gates LLP as an associate. She is the Communications Editor for the William & Mary Law Review and a teaching assistant for Torts.
When I accepted my post-grad federal clerkship in January of 2L year, I knew that externing for a judge during my final year of law school would be a great way to learn about clerking. I vaguely knew what a clerk did after researching for my clerkship interview and talking to current and former clerks, but I really wanted to experience the work firsthand. Each judge runs his or her chambers differently, but my externship with Judge Mark Davis, a federal judge at the Eastern District of Virginia in Norfolk, helped me understand the general day-to-day life of a clerk and allowed me to work on challenging, but extremely interesting, cases.
I spent about fourteen weeks externing for Judge Davis in the fall of my third year. During my first and second weeks with Judge Davis, I was fortunate to sit in on a criminal jury trial and observe direct examination, cross examination, and closing arguments. During my last week of the externship, I also got to observe voir dire for a different case. I was taking Trial Advocacy at the time, a class at the Law School about the fundamental steps of a trial, and it was so interesting to see the concepts I learned in the classroom play out in the real world. Also, I really enjoyed observing criminal sentencing hearings where the judge discussed and considered both mitigating and aggravating circumstances of the case in order to reach an appropriate sentence for the defendant.
One really cool aspect of externing for a judge is that you are free to observe not only your judge’s proceedings, but also the proceedings before other judges in the courthouse. I observed initial appearances, detention hearings, and other motion hearings in criminal cases before the magistrate judges. I saw attorneys with very strong oral advocacy skills as well as those with unpersuasive techniques.
Outside of the courtroom, I researched controlling and persuasive case law, drafted memorandum opinions, and discussed cases with Judge Davis and his clerks. The issues that I handled during my externship include: modification of a restitution order, petition for writ of habeas corpus, attorneys’ fees, motion for default judgment, and interpleader action. Judge Davis and his clerks took the time out of their incredibly busy schedules to meet with me whenever I had questions and also gave me specific, valuable feedback on my work. Most importantly, I was welcomed into chambers and immediately treated like part of the team by Judge Davis, his clerks, his assistant, Becky, and the other staff members at the courthouse.
There is truly no substitute for the experience I received in Judge Davis’s chambers and I highly recommend judicial externships as a way to gain universal skills for every area of the law.