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Keana Williams never thought she could stand in a courtroom, in front of a judge and litigate a case. However, spending the summer interning for a federal judge boosted her confidence in litigation. Because of her business background, Williams entered law school wanting to go into corporate and transactional law, without ever considering any type of litigation, even corporate litigation, but her summer intern experience changed her mind.
As an intern at The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, with Chief Judge Joy Flowers Conti, Williams drafts and edits legal memorandum. She observes trial conferences in chambers and watches lawyers litigate criminal and civil trials, something she thought she would never do.
“We have open access to the proceedings,” she said. “Before watching these, I was a little intimidated by the thought of trying a case, but this experience has shown me I could do this; I could litigate, and it’s not as scary as I thought.”
This summer, Williams primarily works on criminal cases, adding another type of legal experience to her resume. Williams previously interned at a law firm, which dealt with real estate law, public utilities and medical malpractice. She describes the work for the judge as daunting at times, but states it hones her writing skills.
“It's been a big task, because my assignment deals with something I've never had to do before” she said. “Interns do the research to find the standard of review, write, edit, submit it to the Judge for review and rewrite; but I’ve had the chance to practice and refine this type of writing, because I know it’s an important skill and something employers look for.”
At the beginning of the spring semester, still trying to find internship opportunities, Williams applied and was selected to attend the ABA Judicial Clerkship program with other law students from all over the country for four days in Chicago. The program brings together up to 100 minority law students from around the country with judges and former law clerks. The group participates in panel discussions, research and writing exercises.
Williams mentioned her interest in corporate law to one of the judges in her group. He knew Judge Conti, whose background is also corporate law, and suggested Williams submit her job application materials to the Judge for an internship.
Williams enjoys working with Judge Conti. The judge takes the time to talk with the interns, explaining the backgrounds and issues of different cases before trials and conferences, and the interns have an open invitation to eat lunch with the judge. Judge Conti even accompanied the interns on a tour of a federal prison in Hazelton, West Virginia.
“She spoke with an inmate she sentenced and asked him about his experience,” Williams said. “She really showed she cared about the people she sentences. I didn’t know that judges followed through with someone they sentenced.”
While her internship showed her the realities of litigation and criminal work, her passion remains with corporate work. Williams came to law school to combine her business background with the law.
“I have a business degree, and so I understand corporate work, I get it and I feel confident about it,” she said. “I always thought I’d practice corporate law in-house, but now I’m open to litigation and know I could do that.”