Taking the Initiative

Vanderbilt's new Public Service Initiative enables recent graduates to gain work experience while working in the public interest.


Ellen D'Angelo
Ellen D'Angelo '09
Clerk, Judge John Yoder
23rd Judicial Circuit
Martinsburg, West Virginia

As a clerk for Judge John Yoder on the 23rd Judicial Circuit of West Virginia in Martinsburg, Ellen D'Angelo has received a comprehensive education in all types of civil procedure as well as an offer to continue working in the judge's chambers. D'Angelo's clerkship came about as a direct result of her internship with the Freedom Forum's First Amendment Center in Washington, D.C., which was supported by a Vanderbilt Public Service Initiative stipend.

At the First Amendment Center, D'Angelo supported Ronald K. L. Collins, a research fellow who is also the Harold S. Shefelman Scholar at the University of Washington School of Law, and Tiffany Villager, an attorney with the First Amendment Center in Nashville. Collins, a First Amendment expert who is also an author and editor most recently of a collection of the writings of Oliver Wendell Holmes, quickly became a mentor. When Judge Yoder, who along with Collins is an active member of an organization of former U.S. Supreme Court Fellows, contacted Collins to ask if he knew any candidates who might be interested in a clerkship, Collins promptly recommended D'Angelo for the position. When Judge Yoder offered her the clerkship, she readily accepted. D'Angelo joined his chambers when her internship with the First Amendment Center ended in December 2009. "I want to be a litigator, and I've learned an incredible amount about civil procedure in Judge Yoder's court," D'Angelo said. "We get the majority of the juvenile cases in our circuit as well as handling a docket of civil cases. I'm responsible for Judge Yoder's entire civil docket, which means I read the motions, do research, and draft proposed orders for his review. I've been exposed to many different types of motion practice—including some I had never heard of when I first started—and to the different legal strategies and approaches lawyers employ with motions, and I have an opportunity to discuss with Judge Yoder what works and what doesn't. The opportunity to see what it takes to make the court system function smoothly has been an incredible learning experience."

“The opportunity to see what it takes to make the court system function smoothly has been an incredible learning experience.”

D'Angelo was particularly impressed that Vanderbilt's Career Services Center helped her find an internship in the competitive D.C. area. "The Public Service Initiative really helped us out," she said, "and Career Services had an eye out for good opportunities in the D.C. area. It helped that the First Amendment Center has a strong Vanderbilt connection." D'Angelo had also served two internships through Vanderbilt's International Legal Studies Program, researching the law of armed conflict for the International Institute of Humanitarian Law in Sanremo, Italy, and working for the International Bar Association in London. "Vanderbilt offered lots of good opportunities to gain experience while I was a student," she said, "and they continued to support us when it was clear that the job market for new graduates was totally stagnant."

D'Angelo has been offered an opportunity to extend her clerkship. She is currently interviewing in New York, having passed the New York bar exam before starting a short-term stint practicing with a boutique litigation firm in fall 2009. "Litigation is definitely what I want to do," she said, "but it was a tough job market in 2009, and the firm didn't have work for me after December. Our class really needed help because of the tough job market, and Vanderbilt responded by starting the Public Service Initiative. That's something that will be very important to me in contributing back to the school—that Vanderbilt was willing to help me even after I graduated."

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