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One Judge, Four Students and an Invaluable Experience

WVU Law - Hon. Frank Volk, Christine Jacobs, Ryan Walters, Tyler Barton, Mary Wiliams
Top: Christine Jacobs, Ryan Walters, Tyler Barton, Mary Williams and the Hon. Frank Volk. Background: Robert C. Byrd United States Courthouse, Charleston, West Virginia.

Tyler Barton ’21, Christine Jacobs ’21, Ryan Walters ’21 and Mary Williams ’22 worked on civil, criminal and bankruptcy cases under the supervision of the Hon. Frank Volk, U.S. District Judge for the Southern District of West Virginia.

“Externs and interns bring a valuable perspective to chambers,” said Volk, a 1992 WVU Law graduate. “Their practical impressions of the process, shaped by their still-close proximity to the academic side, provide chambers an additional lens with which to examine the events and arguments unfolding in the cases.”

The summer 2020 externs assisted Volk and his clerks in writing motions and memorandums, conducting legal research, and preparing for hearings. Their work involved federal civil rights topics, issues of constitutionality, criminal sentencing, post-conviction remedies, Social Security issues, contracts, bankruptcy and administrative law.

“My favorite thing about this externship was how much Judge Volk encouraged us to learn through experience. He wanted each one of us to get a broad range of experience so that we may carry it into our future careers,” Walters said. “The fact he cared so much about what we gained from our time in chambers made a big impression on me.”

According to Walters, his externship opened his eyes to both the practical side of criminal procedure and the dire need for pro bono attorneys to advocate for and guide clients through their legal processes.

To help prepare Volk for criminal hearings, Walters conducted legal research and was asked to provide various recommendations. In doing so, he encountered many clients who had legitimate complaints, but lacked the knowledge and resources to legally address them.

“I found the practical side of criminal law very interesting. One of the most valuable things I learned from this experience is how the court functions on the inside,” he said. “I now have an understanding of what the court can and cannot do, which will help me as an attorney moving forward.”

Barton also benefitted from preparing for hearings with Judge Volk, which instilled in him the importance of practicing perfect attention to detail in completing legal tasks.

“The judge and his law clerks were invaluable resources this summer as I perfected my legal work,” he said. “My experience working alongside them has paid dividends in improving my legal writing and research skills.”

In addition to helping prepare for court, the externs also attended a variety of civil, criminal and bankruptcy hearings in Volk’s chambers. While the COVID-19 pandemic prevented many in-person hearings, the students were able to observe proceedings via remote conferencing and inside the courtroom.

“Attending Judge Volk’s sentencing and plea hearings allowed me to learn more about criminal law and procedure and how attorneys approach hearings and the litigation process,” said Williams. “I was able to learn a lot from working with Judge Volk this summer despite COVID-19, and I am very grateful for the opportunities he gave me.”

Williams witnessed the first in-person trial of her legal career during her externship. The civil jury trial was held under strict mask requirements by the Hon. Thomas Johnston, Chief Judge for the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of West Virginia. The witness stand had plexiglass in front of it, and the judge and attorneys communicated from a distance with headsets.

After each of his hearings, Volk held a debriefing session with his clerks and the externs to help clarify any questions about the proceedings and to discuss the outcome and any issues.

“The lively discussions that follow hearings impact us all and enhance the learning process in a very unique way,” Volk said.

Jacobs gained a better understanding of the courts’ role in people’s lives by attending these legal hearings. Seeing the real impact judges’ decisions have on the lives of people every day was an important part of her education, as were Volk’s debriefings, according to Jacobs.

“One of my biggest takeaways from the summer came from a meeting Judge Volk had with us after a hearing,” Jacobs said. “During the hearing, Judge Volk gave the person appearing before him a considerable amount of time to explain himself and the situation he was facing. After the hearing, Judge Volk told us that one of his main goals as a judge is to always try to have every person appearing before him, whether they are the prevailing or non-prevailing party, leave the courtroom with a sense of justice. I plan to carry that sentiment with me throughout my career.”


About the Judge Volk Externs

WVU Law Mary Williams '22

Mary Williams is a 2L from Bluefield, Virginia. She graduated from the University of Virginia in 2017 with a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science and Biology. She is currently an extern with West Virginia University Health System Legal Services.

WVU Law Tyler Barton '21

Tyler Barton is a 3L from Nitro, West Virginia. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Agricultural and Medical Biotechnology from University of Kentucky in 2018. He is a Senior Editor for Volume 123 of the West Virginia Law Review.

WVU Law Christine Jacobs '21

Christine Jacobs is a 3L from Parkersburg, West Virginia. She graduated from WVU in 2014 with a bachelor’s degree in History with minors in Psychology and Religious Studies. At WVU Law, she is a student attorney in the Child and Family Advocacy Law Clinic, co-chair of the Diversity and Inclusion Committee for the Student Bar Association, vice president of OUTLaw and the Asian Pacific American Law Student Association student organizations, and fundraising chair for the Class of 2021. She was also a 2019-20 Dean’s Fellow in the Academic Excellence Center.

WVU Law Ryan Walters '21

Ryan Walters is a 3L from Charleston, West Virginia. He graduated from WVU with a bachelor’s degree in Political Science in 2018. At WVU Law, he is vice president of West Virginia Association for Justice and the Board Game Association, and he is a member of the West Virginia Employment Lawyers Association and the Lugar Trial Association.

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