Syracuse Law alumni help their alma mater in many ways, and in this feature, we offer a few vignettes about how they have offered their time and talent over the past year—from creating scholarships, guest lecturing, hosting externs, to hiring graduates, and more.
We not only ask what alums are doing but why they do it. Remember, every way you contribute makes a difference for our students, not least in the personal and professional bonds that are formed among generations of Orange lawyers.
“We all enhance each other”
The Hon. Thérèse Wiley Dancks L’91 became a United States Magistrate Judge for the Northern District of New York in 2012, and in that same year, she began working with the Office of Career Services to host externs at her chambers in downtown Syracuse.
Since the 2012-2013 academic year Judge Dancks has hosted 41 externs, including her current cohort of students, and 36 of those externs have been from Syracuse Law. The only summer she missed during that time was summer 2021, due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Judge Dancks took time out of her busy schedule to discuss what externs can expect while working in her chambers, and about her rule for who buys lunch …
Why do you continue to support externship programs and host externs?
For two reasons. First, I believe all of us practicing and working in law careers have an obligation to train the next generation of lawyers. Second, it’s important that students also get practical experience. Here, they get to know the workings of the courts from backstage, so to speak, understand what goes into decision-making, learn how a good brief is written, and see what to do and—importantly—what not to do in a courtroom or chambers.
My law clerks agree with me and buy into this—including my Career Law Clerk Jill C. Levy L’05—so I credit them for their willingness to help train the next generation.
What sort of tasks do your externs perform?
When we have a new cohort of externs coming in, I will talk with my clerks about cases that are coming up or that are fully briefed and ready for decisions. We then try to start the externs off with distinct projects such as a discreet issue within a larger motion.
After that, we’ll give them a larger project within a case, such as a civil rights matter or social security appeal. My clerks will oversee and check the externs’ work by assisting them with organizational structure, legal reasoning, supportive authority, and other revisions before it comes to me. Our goal is to help the students improve their written and analytical skills.
How many hours do your externs typically work?
Summer externs might be here for as many as 40 hours a week, with academic year externs putting in about 12 hours a week. We want them to get a substantive practical education. We’ll bring them along slowly at first, but by the end of their time with us, they may have worked on two or more full case motions, under supervision from my clerks.
I also encourage the externs to watch proceedings in other courts and see what other judges are doing. You learn a lot by observing. I know I did. The students do great. I have rarely been disappointed.
Do you keep in touch with former externs?
I keep a list of all of them, and I follow their careers to cheer them on and let them know they are not alone. When externs work in my chambers, they know my door is always open, and they can ask me anything about work, career, school, and life.
I also always invite students to stay in touch as they progress through their careers. Some stay in touch regularly, and others pop up every now and then to fill me in on their lives. It is very gratifying to know I played some small part in their legal education, and I love to see them succeed.
Mentoring young lawyers is so important to keeping our profession civil and respected, and in the long run, to help uphold the rule of law.
So, what is your special rule about who buys lunch?
One rule in my chambers is that no student is ever allowed to pay for their lunch when we get take-out or go out as a group. I know the students are on budgets, so I just ask that they plan to do the same for a student somewhere down the road in their careers. This goes for mentoring too when they are at a place in their careers to do so. I tell them that we all enhance each other with our successes, so it is important for them to help other Orange alums succeed.
Have any of your externs returned to you as clerks?
None yet, but some have become clerks for other judges. We train them well for someone else, I guess! I know that they are much more attractive as clerks because they have seen what goes on in chambers and the backrooms of courts.