DeKalb County Courthouse, Decatur, Georgia. (John Disney/ ALM) DeKalb County Courthouse, Decatur, Georgia. (Photo: John Disney/ ALM)

The head of the Georgia Latino Law Foundation, Ana Maria Martinez, is spearheading a virtual judicial internship program for second-year law students who’ve had their summer associate plans canceled at law firms.

The virtual internships with Georgia judges are open to all 2Ls at the state’s ABA-accredited law schools, Martinez said. The deadline to apply is May 15.

The five-week summer program is unpaid but offers aspiring lawyers experience working in a judicial office. “It gives law students opportunities to have a substantive summer and feel like their hard work wasn’t wasted this year,” said Martinez, who serves as a staff attorney for DeKalb County State Court Judge Dax Lopez. “It’s a way to expose them to new connections, how the court system works and perhaps a new mentor.” 

Martinez said she got the idea from reading stories about canceled law firm summer programs in the Daily Report. “It started gnawing at my brain, and I woke up thinking, ‘What can we [in the court system] do?’”

Martinez graduated from Georgia State University College of Law in 2009, another tough and uncertain time for law students in the midst of the recession from the financial crisis. “I remember how easy it was to feel defeated,” she said. “I was very blessed in my career search, but I had many classmates who felt hopeless and helpless. I wanted to make sure these students do not feel abandoned.” 

Martinez said the organizers are asking law students to commit to a minimum of 20 hours per week. “It’s going to be very flexible so the judges can use the interns in the best way for their chambers,” she said, adding that the students will meet via Zoom with judges or their staff attorneys twice a week.

One unique feature of the program is that it asks all students to work on a project—either a memo or research guide—on emerging issues from COVID-19 that will likely be coming before the courts. Martinez hopes by the end of summer to have a database of all the law students’ research available to the state’s judiciary. 

The organizers are soliciting attorney mentors to advise students on the research project, and they are putting together a curriculum of assignments that judges can use if they haven’t hosted an intern before.

An orientation to prepare students to be successful in a virtual internship will be held the first week in June, and the interns will start June 8 for the five-week program. 

Ana Maria Martinez, president of the Georgia Latino Law Foundation, who is spearheading the new virtual summer internship program with judges. (Courtesy photo) Ana Maria Martinez, president of the Georgia Latino Law Foundation. (Courtesy photo)

Martinez has formed a committee to recruit judges and law students. The committee includes five Georgia judges: Court of Appeals Presiding Judge Sara Doyle and Elizabeth Gobeil; Fulton County State Court Judge Susan Edlein; DeKalb County State Court Judge Kimberly Anderson; and Toombs County Chief Magistrate Judge Rizza O’Connor. 

Michael Eshman, trial lawyer at Eshman Begnaud and GLLF board member, and Alexis Martinez, Georgia State University College of Law’s associate dean of students, are also on the committee, along with GSU Law graduate Lina Machado and Emory Law student Sarah Banda.

The virtual internship program has 13 participating judges so far, mostly in metro Atlanta, Martinez said, from magistrate, state, superior, appellate and federal courts.  She said her committee is also contacting bankruptcy and workers’ compensation judges. “I feel there is going to be an explosion of COVID-related cases in all those courts,” she said.

The aim is to have between 20 and 25 judges participating, she said. Those interested should email info@galatinolawfoundation.org

Interested students may apply through a posting in their law school career services office. The application asks for a resume and a statement of interest on why the student wants to participate and how the coronavirus pandemic has affected their summer plans.

Students can’t ask for a specific judge, but Martinez encouraged applicants to let the organizers know in their statement of interest what type of law interests them. That way, a student interested in criminal law, for instance, could be paired with a magistrate judge for “the nitty-gritty of criminal law,”’ she said.