Judicial Externship: My Introduction to Diversion Court

Date: January 31, 2016 | Posted By: USDBLS

First and foremost, if you can extern for a judge, DO NOT HESITATE. It was an absolutely invaluable experience. Not only did my externship enrich my law school experience, but it helped me appreciate the court system from a completely different angle. Many law students know that being an extern for a judge will provide you with excellent writing experience and open valuable doors. This was true for me and I am incredibly grateful for the many writing samples and relationships I fostered through my judicial externship. This article, however, focuses on a unique part of my externship that changed me as a person and will affect the type of lawyer I become.


Diversion Court Program

The judge I was an extern for was one of the magistrate judges who handles cases under the Diversion Program. The Diversion Program is a court program that focuses on rehabilitation and helps hundreds of federal defendants accused of low-level crimes avoid prison. The program is targeted at individuals (mostly young adults) who are starting down a path of criminal activity. Most participants are in the program as a result of drug or immigration charges.  Participants are required to follow an individually tailored plan that can include everything from drug rehab to completing English classes. The judge and the participants’ attorneys decide what is best for each individual participant in the program. The judge may require a participant to apply for a certain amount of jobs per month, attend therapy sessions, or obtain his or her G.E.D. if they have not done so yet.  Most of the participants remain in the program for one year and are required to attend court once a month to check in with the judge. During this hearing, the participants are given a chance to tell the judge about their progress, or any issues they may be having.  At the end of the program, there is a graduation ceremony for each participant and thereafter, the participants’ criminal charge is dropped from their record, enabling them to take the skills they have learned from the program and obtain jobs.

Being a part of the Diversion Program was one of the best experiences I have had thus far in law school. Observing this program, you remember that people make mistakes, come from difficult backgrounds, have no support whatsoever, and simply need someone to provide them with legal assistance and, more importantly, believe in them.  It is no surprise that the program, after five years, has such a low recidivism rate.  The attorneys and judges that participate in the Diversion Program are truly passionate about it and want to help these adults and young adults get their lives back on track and stay out of court and prison permanently.  The judges and attorneys inspire these individuals and let them know that, although they have been dealt a bad hand in life, they can turn it around and accomplish so much if they put their minds to it.

I witnessed the participants’ transformations each month.  At the end of my externship, after attending the program for about four months, I witnessed confident individuals speaking directly to the judge instead of having their attorneys speak on their behalf. I witnessed individuals who went from being ashamed of their current state, to being proud of themselves for receiving their education, or maintaining a job, or remaining sober.  When a participant had a wonderful month, I celebrated with them. When a participant had a difficult month, I felt for them. You come to know these individuals, witness their progress, and hope the best for each and every single one of them. This program truly inspired me, and not only do I hope to remain a part of it, in some way or another, throughout my legal career, but I strongly encourage others to sit in on a Diversion Court hearing. At the very least, you will be reminded of why you chose this career path and be inspired to help those that need it the most.


Author: Samantha Lewis

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