The Judicial Intern Opportunity Program (JIOP) places minority and financially disadvantaged law students with judges for summer internships. Now celebrating over 10 years of success, JIOP was established in response to a study released in February 2000, which reported that only 15 percent of all judicial clerkships are held by minorities—despite the fact that minorities make up 30 percent of the nation’s population and 20 percent of the law student population. In JIOP’s first five years, 325 students were placed with judges. The program has since placed over 1,400 diverse and financially disadvantaged law students with federal and state judges in major cities across the country, including Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Miami, Seattle, Los Angeles, San Francisco Phoenix, Dallas, Houston, and throughout the state of Illinois. In 2011, more than 150 judges participated in the program and JIOP interns represented 82 different law schools. JIOP has become a key component of the ABA and Section of Litigation’s initiatives to expand opportunities to minorities in the legal profession.
The American Bar Association Section of Litigation took over administration of JIOP in 2002 from the Section of Antitrust Law. The Illinois program was the founding location for JIOP and is still the largest of the JIOP programs. JIOP participants are placed in both the Northern and Central Districts, the Circuit Court of Cook County and in many circuits throughout the state. In 2011, 44 participants were placed in Illinois federal and state courts.
JIOP partners with the Illinois Judges Foundation, the Just the Beginning Foundation, other Sections of the ABA, many local and national bar associations along with law firms to make summer internships possible for diverse law students. Students may apply to the program after the first semester of their first year of law school. After completing a screening interview with attorney volunteers, recommended students are then forwarded on to participating judges for placement. All of the JIOP participants are selected by the end of April and most of the internships begin in May. In 2011, 750 students were interviewed for placement representing a 12% increase in the number of applications.
The internship consists of a full-time, minimum six-week summer position with a judge. Participants receive a $1,500 award to conduct legal research and writing for state or federal judges. The internship allows participants to develop one-on-one working relationships with the judges and encourages them to consider seeking a judicial clerkship upon law school graduation.
JIOP’s mission is to provide opportunities to students who are members of racial and ethnic groups that are traditionally underrepresented in the profession. The program also provides opportunities to students with disabilities, students who are economically disadvantaged and students who identify themselves as LGBT.
JIOP participants receive substantial benefits from the program. Most students credit the experience with helping them develop better problem solving, legal research and writing skills. JIOP participants also credit the program with helping them to better manage their workload and to better understand ethics issues that arise during the litigation process. The one-on-one exposure with judges and first-hand observations of the litigation process in the courtroom and behind the scenes give JIOP participants an experience unparalleled to any other summer legal experience. After their JIOP summer is completed, the majority of JIOP participants move on to summer internships or full-time positions in law firms or with federal or state governments. The JIOP experience in itself provides significant advantages and opens doors to even more legal opportunities.
JIOP alumni carry the success of the program forward. These alumni, who are now young lawyers, are accomplishing great things. Many serve as volunteers for the program and represent the future of the legal profession and the face of the courts—one of the original goals of the program. JIOP alumni further serve as interviewers and mentors for JIOP participants, offering a network of support in what has become a challenging environment in which to find legal job opportunities.
JIOP continues to grow, as more students and judges see the value of access to the judicial clerkship system for all law students, particularly minority and financially disadvantaged students. JIOP participants and alumni are giving back to their communities and staying active in the legal field to make it a better, more inclusive environment for all attorneys. JIOP is working tirelessly to promote its mission of fostering a more diverse environment in judicial clerkships. JIOP is currently strengthening its nationwide alumni base through social media, including LinkedIn and Facebook.
JIOP is always looking for volunteers to perform screening interviews for program applicants. Last year, the program had more than 700 applicants. Interviews are held where the student attends law school and are set up by the practicing attorney. Students tell JIOP that the screening interview is one of the most important parts of the program as it gives them an opportunity to meet with a practicing attorney. This is a great way for ISBA members to get involved with JIOP. Volunteers tell us that the experience is quite rewarding—reminding many of why they became lawyers. Please contact the ABA Section of Litigation to learn more about JIOP and to get involved. JIOP appreciates the continued support of the ISBA leadership and members and looks forward to creating with you a diverse and inclusive legal profession. Please visit JIOP’s Web site at <. ■