Amid the usual hustle and bustle in the halls of the Madison County Courthouse, some new faces have been popping up at trials, motion dockets and in judges' chambers. Faisal Akhter, Emory University in Atlanta, Ga.
Law students from around the country have been honing their research skills and seeing first-hand the workings of the courts through their schools and an American Bar Association (ABA) program designed to bring minority and economically challenged law students into the real legal world.
"It's to really get them connected to the system," Madison County Circuit Judge Barbara Crowder said. "It's a great program."
Crowder has been supervising the intern program, keeping a detailed list of what court proceedings students have seen and which judges they've worked for.
Madison County has its largest number of interns. St. Clair County also has one intern, supervised by St. Clair County Circuit Judge Milton Wharton.
While three of Madison's seven law students are earning academic credit through the University of Illinois and Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, the remaining four came to Madison County through the ABA program.
The law students in Madison County come from as far away as upstate New York and North Dakota. St. Clair County's student comes from Colorado.
The interns have divided their time between research for judges and observing court proceedings.
The ABA's litigation section sponsors the program to place minority and economically disadvantaged law students into courts nationwide and throughout Illinois. This year, nearly 200 students from law schools across the country are participating. The nine-year old program was started to help increase diversity in America's legal sector. The original program started with 14 interns.
Madison County Circuit Court became involved in the program about five years ago. Crowder, who had been serving as president of the Illinois Judges' Foundation and Association, had learned of the program through the organization. Starting five years ago, the Madison County courts took on one student a year.
This year, however, Madison County's judges gathered and decided to host as many students as wanted to come, Crowder said. The reason was the judges were concerned that the down economy would impact real-world jobs that students might have pursued. With those jobs few and far between, Crowder explained, those sitting on Madison County's benches wanted to give law students the chance to get some real world experience, even if the students couldn't get it through jobs.
"What we've tried to do is design [the program] to let them see all of what we do," Crowder explained. "Six weeks isn't a very long time."
Students have looked up cases, written analyses and even offered their opinions while working for Crowder. During motion hearings and other court sessions, she has made a point of introducing the students to the lawyers and others present.
"I think it's probably fun for them because they are seeing [cases] from the court's point of view," Crowder said of the students' research projects. "They're realizing that when we get it, both sides are saying the law is clear. I think it's probably entertaining for them to see the spin both sides put on it."
Madison County's students have worked with all of the county's circuit judges, several associate judges and with the courts in Bond County.
Although Madison County's judges and lawyers have tried to make the six-week experience entertaining for students, Crowder said, their time here has not been all fun and games.
"They recognize that while we try to make it entertaining for them, they recognize they are here to do work for us," Crowder said.
Madison County's Law Student Interns:
Through the American Bar Association:
Keith Southam, Chicago-Kent College of Law
Alex Choi, University of North Dakota
Mohammad Uddin, Syracuse University, Ithaca, N.Y.
Through local universities:
Adam Tucker, Southern Illinois University at Carbondale
Allison Pitzer, Southern Illinois University at Carbondale
Jason Bell-Masteron, University of Illinois
St. Clair County's Law Student Interns:
Though the American Bar Association:
Scott Young, University of Colorado