A View of the Court Kate Murphy '20L spent her summer on both sides of the bench, working for the Supreme Court of Virginia and the U.S. Attorney's Office.
Kate Murphy is a second year law student from Richmond, Virginia. She graduated in 2016 from the University of Virginia with a degree in History and Government. She spent a year between undergrad and law school working as a paralegal at the Department of Justice in Washington DC. At W&L Law, she is Co-President of the Pro Bono Board, a staffwriter for the Journal of Civil Rights and Social Justice, and a member of the Women in Law Society.
What did you do for work this summer?
This summer, I split my time between the Supreme Court of Virginia and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Newport News. I spent May and June in the Chief Staff Attorney’s Office in the Supreme Court and July at the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
How did you find this position?
I got both of these positions from GPIIP, the government interview program in February. I also talked to older W&L students who had worked there in the past to learn more about the positions and the interview process.
Describe your work experience.
At the Supreme Court, the majority of my work was reviewing criminal petitions for appeal and drafting memoranda explaining why the court should or should not hear the cases. I would read through the transcripts from the lower court to summarize the relevant facts, summarize each side’s argument, the relevant law, and my suggestion as to whether the case had merit to be heard. The final result was that the justices only had to read my four page summary of the case rather than hundreds of pages of transcripts and briefs. While at the Court, I also got to hear oral arguments and writ panels, conduct research into actual innocence DNA preservation, meet the Justices, and learn more about Virginia’s appellate system.
At the U.S. Attorney’s Office, I conducted legal research for pending cases and drafted motions and responses to the court. I also got to prepare witnesses and exhibits for a trial and spend a lot of time in the district court with various pre- and post-trial hearings. The majority of my work focused on drug related charges, but I also got exposure to white collar crime and gang cases.
What were some skills you developed this summer?
The Supreme Court was incredible for improving my writing skills. Trying to condense hundreds of pages of material into a couple pages was daunting at times, but my mentor gave me detailed feedback which helped me write concise and eloquent memos.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office also greatly helped my legal research skills. The attorneys frequently needed information about complex and developing areas of law, so I had to work efficiently to find cases with similar fact patterns to support their arguments. A lot of my time was spent researching the Fourth Circuit and then putting the information I found into drafts of motions or memos explaining the law to the attorneys.
What classes or experiences were useful in preparing you for the summer work?
In both internships, I was working on criminal cases so criminal law was incredibly beneficial. Legal research and writing were also essential to both of the internships as the majority of my work was research and writing based. However all of my classes were useful while listening to the oral arguments in the Supreme Court, because the June session had cases that touched on property, contracts, professional responsibility, criminal law, administrative law, and civil procedure. It was incredible to see topics we had discussed in class come to life in the oral arguments.
What surprised you about the work you did this summer?
I was definitely surprised by how much I had learned in one year of law school and how much it related to the work I did this summer. I was a little unsure of how easily the skills I learned as a 1L would transfer to a work environment but was happy to see that I could handle the work and had learned much more than I had realized in a year. While my work delved into more complicated material than I had seen in school and classes I had not yet taken, such as constitutional law and criminal procedure, I was able to use the foundations I had learned in school to research these areas and find the answers I needed.
What was your favorite aspect of this summer work experience?
At the Supreme Court, I loved getting to know the Justices. All of the Justices that live in the Richmond area took the time to meet the interns over lunch or dessert. It was amazing to get to know more about their careers, and they all gave thoughtful advice for our futures. I also loved getting to present one of my cases orally to Justices Mims and McCullough. It was a great experience to work on my oral advocacy in front of two distinguished justices–especially when they agreed with my analysis of the case!
My favorite part of the U.S. Attorney’s Office was getting to spend the majority of my time in court. I got the opportunity to see everything from a guilty plea, misdemeanor docket, arrangement, and sentencing. I loved getting to know more about the federal system and see the behind the scenes work that goes into the cases. The best part was getting to discuss what I had just seen with the attorneys and get their insight into the cases.
Has this experience helped you figure out post graduate plans, and if so, how?
This summer definitely confirmed that I enjoy litigation and would like to continue into that field. I was interested in litigation before law school, but getting to see it from a variety of scenarios confirmed that it would be a great path for me. I’m still interested in exploring more transactional work, but I am glad to know how much I enjoy litigation and practicing in Virginia.
How do you think this experience will shape the rest of your time at W&L Law?
This summer definitely showed me the importance of clear writing and oral advocacy and how it can determine the fate of a case. I am looking forward to more chances to improve my writing at W&L by taking writing seminars and writing a note and improving my oral advocacy through the various competitions in the fall.