First-Year Students Visit Federal Courthouse
A collaboration between the Saint Louis University School of Law and the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri is giving first-year SLU LAW students a unique new opportunity.
Professor Jacqueline Kutnik-Bauder worked with Clerk of the Court Jim Woodward to organize a program that allows legal research and writing (LRW) students to visit the Thomas F. Eagleton Courthouse and get firsthand advice from federal judges.
“For many students this was the first time they were ever in a courthouse,” Kutnik-Bauder said. “Having an opportunity to meet with a sitting judge and get his or her advice about practicing law, professionalism and just being an attorney in general allows them to think about their career from a different perspective.”
The program, which began this semester, has already allowed for three groups of LRW students to visit the courthouse in recent weeks. Each group met with a different federal judge – Judges John Ross, Rodney Sippel and Audrey Fleissig – who gave advice on a variety of topics ranging from professionalism in the courtroom to tips on writing for the court.
Kutnik-Bauder said the beginning of the spring semester is a fitting time to visit the federal courthouse because the spring semester is when first-year students in LRW begin to learn about writing for the court and the second semester problem is always set in the federal courts. Additionally, the judges touched on many topics the LRW students will study during the spring.
“There are ethical, procedural and professionalism issues that get raised during our spring semester writing course that each of the three judges addressed. Issues such as proper research, being persuasive but also accurate, appropriate tone and professionalism toward the court and opposing counsel,” she said.
Kutnik-Bauder said she received positive responses from many of the students after the inaugural round of court visits and plans to continue offering the opportunity for first-year law students every spring.
First-year student Elizabeth McQuage said she took away a lot from the judge’s presentation that really drove home what she has learned in her LRW courses.
“It's always great to get out of the classroom and see the spaces where what we are learning is being implemented,” McQuage said. “I really liked hearing firsthand from a judge what will be expected of us as attorneys. The judge provided us with several examples of dos and don'ts in regard to writing and oral presentation. The biggest thing I garnered from the judge's presentation was the reminder that we are not just students anymore. We have begun our legal careers and, subsequently, our reputations within the legal community.”
First-year student Alex Davis said the court visit gave him some valuable perspective on being open minded as he begins his legal career.
“The thing that stuck with me most was the career path the judge followed to get to where he is today. He held many different jobs and did both civil and criminal practice,” Davis said. “I think that demonstrated there is no ‘right’ way to get to be a federal judge. You just have to work hard and take the opportunities given to you. Ultimately, you need to find an area you are passionate about and not be afraid to change concentrations or jobs if you are not satisfied.”
The program, Kutnik-Bauder said, is a prime example of an opportunity made possible by SLU LAW’s move downtown. In addition to the first-year visits, Kutnik-Bauder said her upper division pre-trial litigation class went to the federal courthouse last semester for a presentation by the clerk’s office on electronic filing and negotiating the federal system.
“Our new location puts us in a very unique position,” Kutnik-Bauder said. “Not only can we put together large programs like the first-year visits, but we can also develop other important collaborative relationships with the court. Being within walking distance of three courthouses gives our students a unique opportunity to observe attorneys, judges and court personnel up close and personal.”