Emily Chamberlain Taking on the Courts in Internship with U.S. District Judge

Emily Chamberlain '10 feels she's been thrown into the real world with a vengeance. The rising junior is interning for the Honorable William K. Sessions III, a U.S. district judge for the District of Vermont and vice-chair of the U.S. Sentencing Commission.

Chamberlain is one of four interns, two undergraduates and two graduate students, working for the judge on cases ranging from firearms and drug possession to illegal immigration to breach of contract disputes. Each intern is assigned an individual case and then researches the background and the arguments that will be advanced by the prosecution and defense, writing a memorandum to present to the judge. The interns include their opinions of the case at the end of their memoranda, and give the documents to the office law clerks, who review them before giving them to Sessions.

In addition, the interns sit in on all hearings and trials to take notes, which they use in a debriefing session with Sessions at the end of the day. The interns thus get valuable educational experience at the same time as they help to organize cases for the judge.

A sociology major at Hamilton, Chamberlain had no previous experience working in the formal environment of a judicial office. "It feels like I was launched into this crazy world," she admits. "Every day is a learning experience." Since she works alongside graduate students who have attended at least a year of law school and have already been immersed in the world of law, she says, she has to learn quickly. "You can't be afraid to ask what something means, even if it's simple." At the same time, the challenge is part of the excitement. "I'm really enjoying it," Chamberlain states. "I've learned so much already that you can't learn in a classroom."

Ironically, the path to this internship started in the classroom. Chamberlain says that initially she was dubious about trying a career in law, until she started to realize that it would give her tremendous power to help people. The turning point was a class on race and law taught by Assistant Professors of Sociology Jenny Irons and Yvonne Zylan. "That class reinforced the thought that law was something I should look into," says Chamberlain. Before taking the LSAT and "jumping in," however, she wanted to see if law was a potential career, and the offer to intern with Sessions provided the opportunity.

When she was offered the internship, Chamberlain says, she was eager for such a valuable experience. However, the internship was unpaid, and she knew that it would be impossible to take the job without the money for housing and living expenses. She applied for and received a stipend from Hamilton's Joseph F. Anderson Internship Fund, given in honor of a 1944 Hamilton graduate who served the college for 18 years as vice president for communications and development. The fund in his name provides individual stipends to support full-time internships for students wishing to expand their educational horizons in preparation for potential careers after graduation.

Chamberlain is an orientation leader, a member of the Hamilton Equestrian Team, and a Bonner Leader intern. She plans to spend next summer also interning in the law field. After Hamilton, she hopes to attend law school, and then possibly work in criminal law as a public defender. The most unexpected aspect of her work so far has been how involved she becomes in each case. "You do all this research and feel that you know the person being tried," she says. "I enjoy each case's individual backstory. Every defendant and every plaintiff has something to say." 

-- by Laura Bramley
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