Thirteen federal judges gathered with nearly 70 law students and
members of the state bar at WVU College of Law earlier this month for a
national diversity event designed to demystify the process of becoming a
bankruptcy or magistrate judge.
The purpose of the event, according to co-chair Judge David Bissett, was to “put the bug in people’s ears that lawyers from a variety of practice backgrounds” can become judges.
“We’re trying to kindle interest from different backgrounds,” said Bissett, Bankruptcy Judge for the Northern District of West Virginia. “In bankruptcy, judges often come from large law firms, but we want people from public interest and small firms to know it’s an option.”
The “Roadways to the Bench: Who Me? A Bankruptcy or Magistrate Judge?” program was organized by the federal judiciary. Locally, Judges Bissett, B. McKay Mignault, and Michael Aloi joined with former West Virginia State Bar President Monica Haddad and WVU Law students Kendra Amick and Nakia Ridgeway to coordinate the event.
“It’s unheard of to have that many members of the federal judiciary under one roof,” Haddad said. “There’s a perception that these appointments are based on political affiliation, but that’s not the case for magistrate and bankruptcy positions. It was fascinating to learn about the different paths these judges took to get to the bench.”
The event, which was held simultaneously in 38 locations across the country, began with a livestreamed national panel discussion, followed by informal roundtable discussions between law students, attorneys, and federal judges. WVU Law students spoke one-on-one with federal district, magistrate, and bankruptcy judges about their career paths. The event concluded with a reception where law students mingled with judges and lawyers from across the state.
Bissett said questions from WVU Law students at the event confirmed that “there is a mystique about how you become a judge and what process is.” He said the event achieved its mission of explaining that the path to the bench “is not some sort of special birthright.”
“There is a path to get there for anyone if you are interested,” he said.
Third-year law student Kendra Amick, who aspires to a career in politics and served as a law student co-chair, found the event inspiring, adding that her conversations with the judges helped her understand that “anyone passionate about public service and making a difference in our state can step up and serve.”
“They have empowered us to see ourselves fill those roles when the opportunity comes,” Amick said.