ExternshipsStudent ContributorSummer Opportunities

Jonathan Leonard ’17 @ the New Jersey State Legislature

Before this summer’s externship, I had somewhat broadened my legal perspective. I had shadowed a hometown tax attorney. I had attended a dinner with two Johnson and Johnson patent lawyers. I had even witnessed Reading, Pennsylvania court proceedings as I observed a Gettysburg Alumnus working as an assistant district attorney. This may seem like a notable list of experiences, but for me, it was all so recent. Less than a year ago, I was certain I would become a doctor, or at the very least, pursue a graduate degree in science (thus putting my biology major and chemistry minor to use in a more traditional career path).

I felt very much behind in my legal knowledge, and after each legal opportunity, I wanted to learn more. I had less than a year left of college, and only one year under my belt of shadowing various legal professions. At Gettysburg, I had taken one politics course, if that, and it was my First Year seminar. Apart from that, I had completed one history course in African American history. Everything else was science, science, and more science (apart from an anthropology course here, and a creative writing course there).

When I applied for this summer’s externships, I hoped to again expand my legal experiences. Specifically, I longed for an experience in politics. The last American government course I had taken was in junior year of high school, and I had hardly kept up with the 2016 presidential primaries. But because of my lack of political experiences, I had no idea if a law career in politics was for me. I had never read up on policy in my own time, or seen legislators in action. I had no idea what the process of policy-making entailed. Frankly, I knew nothing of public policy.

I was highly fortunate to receive a Gettysburg externship with Mr. Peter Barnes. Mr. Barnes had previously served as a Senator of Edison, New Jersey, though he had been appointed as a Judge to the New Jersey State Superior Court by the time of my externship. I spent my externship not only with Judge Barnes, but with Brandon Goldberg, his former Chief of Staff (who was transitioning to the role of town Business Administrator at the time of my visit). I also spent some time with one of Judge Barnes’ new law clerks, David Telson.

My week was split between time at the New Jersey State Senator Office in Edison, New Jersey, and the Middlesex County Courthouse in New Brunswick. At the legislative office, I spent time with Brandon. There, I talked with Brandon, a woman named Betty, a councilperson, and two additional legislative employees about legal careers. It was highly insightful—it had turned out that both Brandon and another man took the LSAT, but chose to pursue their masters in public policy rather than law school. The councilman had not expected to pursue a career in politics, and was an engineer by training who was also heavily involved in property development. Betty’s husband was a partner in a tax firm run out of Newark, and she spoke to his success; her daughter attended Dartmouth as an undergraduate, and pursued an MBA instead of law school.

Apart from these engaging conversations, Brandon helped provide some practicality to my experience in the legislature. I read up on current political events through NJ.com, and Brandon then suggested I write a mock press release on the New Jersey Gas Tax debate. It was definitely a new task for me, as I had no previous familiarity with New Jersey state laws (let alone, a gas-tax debate), but I was satisfied when Brandon reviewed my work and said I had done a great job for a first press release. On my third day in the legislative office, Brandon printed out a packet of recent legislative bills for me. This packet encompassed some 100 pages of over 50 different bills. I then had the chance to read the bills, discuss interesting ones with Brandon (i.e. one that proposed to ban DraftKings and Fanduel employees from playing fantasy sports themselves), and better understand what the process of bill enactment is like.

While I spent 3 days in the legislative office, I spent the other 2 days of the five-day externship in the courthouse. It was here that I met Judge Barnes. On my first day at court, I met briefly with Judge Barnes. Judge Barnes then introduced me to David Telson, his new law clerk, who showed me around the courthouse for the day. David himself was highly engaging and great to talk to; he offered a fresh, young perspective as a recent law-school grad. He had already worked for small firms and big firms across a range of differing specialties (such as international law); thus, he offered a unique outlook into the legal market. I was able to ask about why he pursued law school, his new position as a clerk, and even small technicalities of the law school admission process (i.e. writing the personal statement—and how he crafted his). I was highly grateful for his time and expertise. Apart from these rich conversations, my first day at court also brought a range of new experiences. While I had seen court before, I had never seen a guilty verdict read by the jury spokesperson. I had never seen closing or opening statements. I never had the chance to see video deposition of a doctor administered as court evidence. These were all new, highly engaging experiences.

Ultimately, my last day in court was the last day of the externship. I was able to spend more time with Judge Barnes, who was extremely knowledgeable, kind, and humorous. I was able to gain a variety of Gettysburg, law school, and political perspectives from him. He was genuinely interested in my interests, and tried to provide the most thorough answers to my questions. For lunch, Judge Barnes took me out to a local pub with Brandon, David, his secretary, and a woman named Elena. Elena had previously worked with Judge Barnes and Brandon during the days of Judge Barnes’ political campaigning, and as it turned out, she had just finished her first year at Fordham law school. Prior to her time working on the campaign, she had also pictured a medical future—she took all the undergraduate courses necessary for medical school. Yet again, I had another chance to ask about someone’s career path leading to law school. All in all, the lunch table also encompassed a wide variety of political conversation, and it was a great time.

In reflection, this externship suggested that a law career in politics may not be for me. That is not to say that Brandon and Judge Barnes did not do an excellent job in providing insight into political careers—as they did. Rather, the experience taught me that I may prefer legal careers in litigation—where there is a more direct, personal connection to the law at hand, away from the tedious ins and outs of policy. I thank my hosts and Gettysburg for providing this opportunity.