Law students gain valuable experience and insight through internship programs


By David Ashenfelter
Public Information Officer,
U.S. District Court for Eastern Michigan

Eighteen law students participated in a daylong orientation seminar May 11 to prepare for summer internships at the U.S. District Court for Eastern Michigan, prominent Detroit-area law firms and corporate legal departments.

The students, from five law schools, spent the day learning what to expect when they start the summer internships in a program sponsored by the Wolverine Bar Association. Some of the students will spend several weeks at law firms in Metro Detroit. Others will spend the time interning for federal judges. And some will do both.

The internship programs – the Judicial Externship Program (JEP) and Summer Clerkship Program (SCP) – are designed to boost the number of minority law clerks in the federal judiciary and associate and partner positions at Detroit-area law firms. Most of the internships will begin after Memorial Day.

“We want to open doors for aspiring lawyers and add to their tool box for success in the profession,” said U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts, who designed both programs. “All participants in the SCP and JEP programs – judges, law firms, students and trainers – are invested in diversity and inclusion in the legal profession.”

The judicial internship program was launched 19 years ago while the law firm program has been in existence for three decades.

Most of the participants are first-year law students. Some are in their second year. They study at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law, Western Michigan University Thomas M. Cooley Law School, Wayne State University Law School, Michigan State University College of Law and Howard University School of Law in Washington, D.C.

To gain admission to the program, the students submitted letters of recommendation; demonstrated strong research, writing and analytical abilities; had ties to southeast Michigan and a desire to practice in Metro Detroit after finishing law school, according to the Wolverine Bar Association.

Panels of lawyers and judges interviewed and selected the students for the program. Students in the judicial program receive school credit or $1,500 stipends from donations to the Wolverine Bar Foundation. Law firm interns receive competitive salaries.

The students gathered May 11 at Western Michigan University Thomas M. Cooley Law School in Auburn Hills, for training by judges, lawyers and former program participants. The students learned about professionalism, confidentiality, ethics and interacting with judges and lawyers. They also focused on writing opinions.

James Johnson, a native Detroiter who is in his first year at Wayne State University Law School, said he applied for an internship because it seemed like a great opportunity to connect with other minority lawyers who have been through the program. He is spending nine weeks on the legal staff at Bedrock, a Detroit-based commercial real estate company, followed by four weeks as an intern for U.S. District Judge Laurie Michelson.

He said the most critical thing he learned during Saturday’s training session was the importance of thoroughly understanding the expectations of working for a judge or a law firm. He said he hasn’t decided which field of law to pursue but is confident that the internship will be vital to his future.

Sherry O’Neal, a Wayne State University Law School grad who went through the Summer Clerkship Program in 1999, said it was invaluable to her career. She clerked for two summers at Dickinson Wright and eventually became a partner in the firm. Today, she is senior counsel in charge of employment at Shiloh Industries, a Plymouth-based global automotive supplier.

“They are phenomenal programs that have helped a lot of individuals get a great start,” O’Neal said, adding that the Summer Clerkship Program gave her mentoring and networking opportunities that she otherwise would not have had. She now serves as a member of the Clerkship selection committee and an orientation faculty member.

Celeste Kinney, a University of Detroit Mercy School of Law grad, agreed. She went through the program in 2016, split her summer between interning with Plunkett Cooney and with U.S. District Judge Sean Cox.

“The program gave me access to the Court and the opportunity to make valuable connections. It jump-started my career,” she said. She currently is serving as a two-year term clerk with Judge Roberts until August 2020 and ultimately plans to become a criminal defense lawyer.

Participating law firms and corporate law departments include: Barris, Sott, Denn & Driker P.L.L.C; Bedrock real estate; Bodman PLC; Brooks Kushman; Butzel Long PC; Dickinson Wright PLLC; DTE Energy Corporation; Dykema Gossett PLLC; Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn LLP; Jaffe Raitt Heuer and Weiss; Meritor manufacturing; Miller, Canfield, Paddock & Stone, P.L.C.; Pitt McGehee Palmer & Rivers, P.C.; Plunkett Cooney, P.C.; The Miller Law Firm, P.C.; and Varnum LLP.

To learn more about both programs, go to: Law firms interested in participating in the Summer Clerkship Program should contact Tiffany Boyd at or 313-237-3088. Donations to the Judicial Externship Program may be made online at  or mailed, payable to Wolverine Bar Foundation/JEP only, at 535 Griswold, Suite 111-531, Detroit, MI 48226.