The Supreme Court of California, the state’s highest court, is located right here in San Francisco only two blocks from the UC Hastings campus. 3L Tom Lin has taken full advantage by participating in a year of externships at the Court with Justice Goodwin H. Liu and Justice Ming W. Chin.
Tom is a native San Franciscan whose parents immigrated to the Bay Area from China in the early ‘80s. Tom notes that like many Chinese immigrants, his parents had a relentless ambition to work and provide, but their hours were long and their wages were low.
“As a child, my grandparents took me to school in the mornings because my parents were already on their way to work. My mother was a seamstress and my father cooked. They wouldn’t come home until long after I finished school, Mom around 8:30 p.m. and Dad whenever the restaurant closed, usually around 10:30 p.m.”
“I just assumed that was what having a job was supposed to be like. When I began working in retail at age sixteen, I was shocked when my employer said I couldn’t skip my meal break and clocked me out after only eight hours of work. I actually thought I was being restricted and should be rewarded for putting in extra work,” Tom recalled. “I soon learned that these rules were being enforced to ensure I was not exploited as an employee. It made me wonder if my parents received those same protections. This developed into a desire to pursue a career in representing employees or advising employers on employment matters.”
Tom chose to attend UC Hastings because of the college’s reputation and proximity to the courts. “The law school is conveniently located in the heart of San Francisco. Everything is within walking distance, and we have every level of state and federal court in the vicinity with opportunities for full-time externships.”
Tom’s first externship was in Justice Goodwin H. Liu’s chambers during the Fall 2016 semester. “Justice Liu posts his externship program on the UC Hastings job board, so I applied as a 1L. Justice Liu is a nationally renowned jurist, so I knew the externship was highly competitive. I didn’t get in as a 1L, but I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to work for him as a 3L. I admire his background, work ethic, and involvement in the legal community.”
Tom is now finishing his second externship in the Supreme Court of California, this time for Justice Ming W. Chin. “Justice Chin has been on the bench for over twenty years. He has a strong externship program and receives applications from all across the country. Justice Chin is also the leading author of the Rutter Group practice guide on employment litigation.”
As an extern, Tom plays a role in analyzing petitions for review from the lower state courts. He also enjoys being an insider and learning about how the Court functions. “Of course, because of confidentiality reasons, I cannot disclose what cases I’ve worked on or what issues I’ve researched, but that in and of itself is what makes this experience special. It’s exciting to see a published opinion and know that you’ve contributed to it in one way or another. Witnessing the level of collegiality and thoughtfulness that goes into each draft opinion is truly remarkable.”
For students interested in externing, Tom suggests the key is persistence in applying, whether specifically to one judge or by casting a wide net to various chambers. “It also helps to research judges in your community and make an effort to attend their speaking engagements—they are often very active in their community and welcome the opportunity to mentor young lawyers. Don’t be shy, there’s nothing wrong with writing to introduce yourself.”
After graduation, Tom will pursue his passion for practicing labor and employment law as an associate with Littler Mendelson P.C., in San Francisco. However, the relationships and friendships he formed as an extern will last beyond law school and into professional practice. “Externs would bond over lunches hosted by the Justices to talk, answer questions, and learn about the history of the Court. I’m told the Supreme Court’s original location was in Sacramento and moved to San Francisco because the water and whiskey were better.”
Judicial externs at UC Hastings work a minimum of 12 weeks in chambers. Our students extern with judges at state and federal trial and appellate courts, as well as with administrative law judges. This experience allows them the “behind the bench” view of how justice is administered, as well as to engage in substantial legal research and writing projects. Students draft bench memos, court orders, and observe court hearings or oral arguments. Thus students learn substantive law, lawyering skills, and professional responsibility in context but also learn to observe, analyze and critique their own abilities and the roles lawyers and institutions play in our legal system.
For more information on Judicial Externships, click here.