Over the course of the last semester, the externship program at the University of Wyoming College of Law has seen a significant boom in participation from both students and outside agencies to provide hands-on experience for law students during their legal education. This thriving program provides an alternative way for students to gain experience in the legal profession outside of the clinical opportunities. In addition to the mentorship and educational value inside each employment site, students gain course credit through the law school by satisfying classroom assignments in conjunction with their placement.
For students that take advantage of the externship program, the benefits can be unparalleled. One such student recently had the opportunity to try a jury trial in front of the Circuit Court of the First Judicial District…and won.
This spring, second-year law student Kendra Winslow has been an extern in the Office of the District Attorney, First Judicial District, in Cheyenne. She has been working under the supervision of Assistant District Attorney, Ben Sherman, a 2012 graduate of the University of Wyoming College of Law. Sherman primarily handles drug cases in Circuit Court.
“From the first day of my externship, my supervisor has had me speaking in court and taking a very active role in the proceedings,” she says. “My daily role in the office has included attending court to represent the state in jail proceedings, initial appearances, motion hearings, traffic court, and bench trials when they are scheduled. My externship has been a crash course in prosecutorial duties. I have learned to make charging decisions, determine bond amounts for defendants, interview victims and witnesses, and most importantly, I have begun to learn important trial skills.”
While Winslow has gained some extremely valuable practical experience through her externship, the pinnacle of her experience would most certainly have to be participating in a jury trial with Sherman in March 2016.
Winslow was included on all aspects of the trial, from preparation and pre-trial conferences to the actual courtroom litigation. According to Sherman, the office wanted to make sure that she was gaining the experience she needed, and was confident that she was capable of stepping up to the task.
“Kendra did a fantastic job in the jury trial,” says Sherman. “She did everything she was supposed to do perfectly and we hold her in very high regard.”
During the trial, Winslow performed the opening statement, the direct examination of the victim in case, the direct examinations of officers involved in the case, as well as the 911 operator. She also performed the cross examination of one of the witnesses for the defense. Following the result of the trial, Winslow was also able to get feedback from jurors, as well as the presiding Judge on the case about her performance.
“The experience of trial was very interesting and educational, and it was made even more rewarding when the jury returned a guilty verdict in the State’s favor” she says. “I learned so much from being able to work a case through from beginning to end, and from observing my supervising attorney in court. I feel very fortunate that through the College of Law and the externship program, I have been able to have this opportunity and gain so much courtroom experience as a 2L.”
Winslow is from Longmont, Colo. She earned her undergraduate degree from UW in Criminal Justice. So far in her law school career, she has also been involved in the International Human Rights Clinic and worked last summer in Cambodia on a project involving the Khmer Rouge Tribunal. She has also been active in the Inns of Court every month in Cheyenne, a perfect example of a proactive student taking advantage of all of the opportunities the College of Law affords.
“I just didn’t expect to get this much experience in law school and I’m so excited to go into practice with all of it under my belt,” she says. “I feel as a younger law student I don’t have all the work and life experience that maybe an older law student might have, so for me it has been really important just to latch on to all of those opportunities and make myself as marketable as possible.”
Winslow applied for the externship in the District Attorney’s office with the assistance of the Director of Career Services, Ashli Tomisich. Stepping into the role to coordinate the externship program, Tomisich is tasked with interfacing between the students and the employers to facilitate a successful placement. She provides the continuity of communication between the law school and interested outside agencies to make sure that both the needs of the employer and the student are met and that they are ideally matched.
Additionally, she is responsible for coordinating and grading assignments that the students are required to fulfill through their placement for course credit. The objective of the assignments is to create a meaningful dialogue between the student and the employer related to and including career choices, ethical issues, and mentorship.
“I really enjoyed the assignments, it made it so I was able to formulate a great relationship with my supervisor and Ashli was really helpful giving advice,” praises Winslow. “It was wonderful to have that kind of support built into the program going out for the first time into the legal field.”
These externship placements provide invaluable insight and practical experience into the world of law, while the students are still in school. UW has an impressive list of externship positions and hopes to continue to grow the program in the future. The intangible benefits gained through time and mentorship will continue to help graduates make meaningful contributions to the Bar as soon as they begin to practice.
The College of Law is extremely proud of all that Winslow has accomplished during one short semester of law school and hope that other students will seize the same opportunities!