There is a popular phrase used to summarize law school: “The first year they scare you to death, the second year they work you to death, and the third year they bore you to death.” On top of that, I have heard countless times about how law school does not prepare you for actual legal practice.
As I entered my third year of law school, I was determined to break out of this mold. I was not going to spend the final nine months of law school being “bored to death” wondering when I would learn the practical skills needed to be a lawyer. This conundrum seemed particularly acute because, unlike many of my peers, I will not be joining a law firm after graduation. Following my clerkship, I will be joining the United States Navy JAG Corps. I will not have time to write memos while I learn from law firm partners. As a JAG officer, I will be expected to practice law right away.
My first thought was to join a clinic. UVA has plenty of great clinics covering numerous practice areas, everything from consumer protection to Supreme Court litigation. Because JAGs spend a significant amount of their time handling criminal law matters, the prosecution or defense clinics seemed like natural choices. However, I was torn because Navy JAG officers are tasked with the unique job of being both prosecutors and defense attorneys within their first two years.
I did not want to choose between prosecution and defense, so I decided to do both.
By doing a pair of externships rather than a clinic, I am able to gain practical experience in both prosecution and defense. During the fall semester I am working for the Lynchburg Public Defender, and next semester I plan to work for a local prosecutor. Thanks to my Third Year Practice Certificate, I am able to get actual courtroom experience that will be invaluable as I begin my career as a Navy JAG officer—both as a prosecutor and a defense attorney. In just a few short weeks, I have handled bail hearings, negotiated plea agreements, and taken a few cases to trial. There is a steep learning curve, and the work can be hectic at times, but I am learning firsthand how to practice law while helping others in the process.
It is safe to say that my third year is not “boring me to death.”
Greg Rustico is a 3L originally from Middletown, New York. After graduating from Notre Dame in 2011, he spent two years teaching middle school Social Studies and Language Arts in Brownsville, Texas. Following his graduation, Greg will be clerking for the Honorable Judge Norman K. Moon on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia.