Law interns polish courtroom skills
Students aid state’s attorney’s office
Two law students with local roots have been getting a leg up on their education while helping the Ward County State’s Attorney’s Office keep up with caseload this summer.
Jacob Schmidt and Logan Simons are completing three-month externships with the county office this week before returning to the University of North Dakota School of Law.
Simons, in his final year of law school, is in his second UND externship with the Ward County State’s Attorney’s office, having worked in the office last summer.
“This time around I’ve seen much more. I’ve done more writing,” he said. “I’ve gotten more involved in procedural issues.”
Schmidt, who has completed the first of the three years of law school, previously interned in the office in the victim-witness advocacy program as a Minot State University student. He said he still feels a sense of relationship to victims.
“I kind of like pursuing justice for them in a legal way,” he said.
Summer placements offer a practical training that students can’t get in school, Simons said. A variety of little things, such as making court motions or managing one’s caseload, are learned through practice, he said.
The highlight this year was seeing his writing improve, said Simons, who considers research and writing response briefs to be one of his greatest contributions to the office this summer.
“They don’t tell you law is a writing profession. But I think every single judge, every single supervising attorney, every single professor you ever hear all agree that students need more practice writing. This summer, I really understood that my writing – from where it was to where it is now – is very much different,” he said. “There’s very stylistic norms; there’s very structural norms. And the more you do it, the easier it gets.”
“There’s a lot of things I really like,” Schmidt said of experiences this summer. “For one, I like all the people here in the office. They are really helpful. If I ever have a question, I can go to them and they guide me to the best of their abilities. And they also understand that this is a learning experience, too, so if there’s something that they feel l like I should maybe take a closer look at or reread or rewrite, they will let me know.
“They have thrown a wide variety of things my way. It’s been memos. I’ve drafted briefs,” he added. “I’ve sat as second chair for trials. I haven’t really gotten my feet wet in the trials yet, but as far as hearings, prelims or initial appearances, I’ve kind of handled those to some degree.”
State’s Attorney Roza Larson said her office, having worked with the UND placement program only a few years, has been fortunate to have two interns this year, which are paid positions.
“It brings lots of value,” she said of the contributions students can make.
“Hopefully, after they graduate, they actually consider coming back to our office or another state’s attorney office and doing public-service type work, because there’s such a huge shortage of that right now in the state and in the country,” she said.
Simons said he is open to practicing in Minot. Simons had moved to Minot in fourth grade, graduated from Bishop Ryan High School and from Minot State University with a business degree.
He worked for Marketplace Foods for about a year after graduation, then worked for Amazon in Seattle for five years. Encouraged to consider graduate school to gain continued promotions at Amazon, Simons decided he would rather enroll in law school. He is on schedule to graduate from UND in December and take his bar exam next February.
A Minot native, Schmidt graduated from Minot High School and received a degree in criminal justice, with a minor in law and legal studies, from MSU in 2021. He said he is interested in criminal law and hopes to explore the fields of prosecution and defense further.
Simons said he appreciates the wide variety of criminal and civil cases that come to a state’s attorney’s office. It is fast paced and he gets to learn something new every day, he said.
Working in that environment taught him the importance of keeping a calendar, tracking deadlines and staying on top of North Dakota Supreme Court decisions and state law changes, he said. He also better understands the importance of continuing education and being self-driven to learn more.
Schmidt said he heads back to UND feeling more ready for the classes ahead of him. He’s written as many as 10 different legal documents over the summer, which is far more than even in his legal writing class this past year.
“So I feel like it helps you kind of build that pace and refine your writing skills,” Schmidt said.
He’s also enjoyed that he has been able to contribute work products that actually were used in court. One of his highlights was assisting the state’s attorney develop a PowerPoint slideshow.
“We worked on it for like a week or two,” he said. “She used it in closing arguments at trial for one of the murder trials here. I thought that was really cool to be a part of.”
Law student gains new perspective
Presenting before the court for the first time was a moment to remember for University of North Dakota law student Crhistian Chavez.
“I’m going to be doing criminal law so there’ll be a lot more of that in the future, but it’s definitely that moment of the first time I got to experience it,” said Chavez, who completed a six-week externship with the Minot Public Defender’s Office this summer.
His experience in Minot was eye-opening for someone interested in criminal law.
“Before, I didn’t think that I could be a defense lawyer. I was focused on more of the prosecution or state’s attorney’s side,” he said. However, seeing defense from the inside and understanding the importance of the role changed his thinking process.
“It makes sense from an accountability perspective, a systemic perspective,” he said. “I changed my perspective on a lot of things.”
Chavez used much of his time with the public defender’s office to conduct research for motions.
“One was a motion that I wrote and researched that was successful in changing what it was that we needed to have changed. So I’m able to keep that now as a writing sample,” he said.
He also participated in interviewing clients and in brainstorming strategies with defense attorneys. As he enters his final year of law school, the practical skills he learned will be valuable in the moot court experiences that lie ahead, he said.
A native of Brandon, Manitoba, Chavez said his goal after graduation is to practice criminal law in North Dakota.