Editor’s Note: Each summer Penn Law students hone their skills through a wide array of private and public sector internships across the country and around the world. Generous financial support and fellowships for international and public interest work enable students to pursue diverse assignments in the United States and abroad. This post from Sam Gold L’20 is one in a series of firsthand accounts detailing how students’ summer employment opportunities are preparing them for their legal careers.
Gold is from Great Neck, NY and graduated from Tufts University.
This summer, I am interning in the Appellate Government (Code 46) division of the Navy JAG Corps in Washington, D.C. Our office represents the United States in criminal cases—in military parlance, courts-martial—on appeal before the Navy-Marine Court of Criminal Appeals (NMCCA), the Court of Appeals for the Armed forces (CAAF), and, in rare instances, before the U.S. Supreme Court.
The caseload at Code 46 is substantial. Since settling in, I have been called upon to assist with some fascinating cases, including ones that implicate constitutional amendments and even present novel issues at the appellate level. In a few of them, appellate defense counsel has really thrown the kitchen sink at us, eliciting our nimblest and most creative responses. (Unfortunately, I’m not at liberty to delve into specifics.)
Before this internship, I had never seen any criminal justice system, let alone the military justice system, up close. It has been eye-opening, especially to work alongside attorneys who have to navigate both the civilian and military justice systems, adhering to multiple sets of rules and guidelines. Not only do they manage that, but they juggle an onerous caseload, all the while remaining professional and, miraculously, friendly. As much insight as I have gained—and am continuing to gain—into the world of military criminal law and justice, I have gained even more into the kind of individual who puts on the uniform.
For better or worse, I am the only intern at Code 46. There is no formal program, no regular flow of work onto my desk. Despite that, the attorneys—in particular my intern sponsor—have done a great job at finding substantive assignments for me, rather than pawning off busy work. I have had hour-long discussions, riddled with hypos; actively participated in meetings; written memos; edited briefs; and been asked, seriously, to offer my opinion on different matters. In some ways, it still feels surreal that, as a lowly intern, I am making a real contribution to Code 46.
Although it was a slog at times, Legal Practice Skills (LPS), Penn Law’s first-year research and writing course, has been invaluable. What I learned in that course has been part and parcel of virtually everything I have done so far in my internship, allowing me to churn out a better work product than I otherwise would have. Given the nature of the work, I have also relied on what I learned in my Criminal Law and Constitutional Law classes to formulate legal arguments.
For me, departing the ivory tower for the real world has been a blessing. As a 1L, I found class unsatisfying, in large part because I was not making an impact. Finally, I am applying my knowledge and skills meaningfully, not just on exam day. The law is at its finest, I think, in the hands of its practitioners, and some of its finest practitioners are the folks for whom I am fortunate to work this summer.