By Rachel Kytonen
Over the course of the last 16 years, 12 law students have had the opportunity to gain hands-on courtroom experience through internships in the Isanti County Attorney’s Office.
Most recently, since the end of May, Eric Laidlaw has been working in the attorney’s office two and one-half days a week through an unpaid internship.
Isanti County Attorney Jeff Edblad explained Laidlaw’s official title is special assistant Isanti County attorney. He explained under Supreme Court Rule, law students who have maintained a certain number of credits can receive a provisional license to practice law while working for the government, as long as they are under the direct supervision of an attorney.
Laidlaw is a fourth-year law student at the William Mitchell College of Law, and will graduate in January. He graduated from Spooner High School in Wisconsin in 2001, and received his undergraduate degree in history from the University of Minnesota in 2006.
Laidlaw, who was appointed to his position by Edblad, is enjoying his experience.
“Within a couple of weeks of my internship, I was doing court hearings, probation violation hearings, omnibus hearings, arraignments and traffic trials,” Laidlaw said. “I’ve also been helping the assistant county attorneys with research projects to help in future cases.”
Edblad said Laidlaw has done a phenomenal job in the county attorney’s office.
“Having Eric in our office has been an absolute valuable benefit to us,” Edblad said. “Since we have been one attorney short over the summer, it’s been absolutely invaluable to have someone with Eric’s talents and work ethic in our office. He’s been able to make some court appearances and plug in some gaps that we’ve had with the transition. For someone with his caliber and skill, to volunteer his time to do this, it has been a great benefit to our office and the citizens of Isanti County.”
Laidlaw said he’s always been interested in law and used to watch programs such as “Law and Order” on television when he was younger. His career goal is to become a prosecuting attorney.
“Being an attorney always seemed cool to me, and then I purged the idea from my mind until a friend of mine joined Mock Trial in college,” Laidlaw said. “After that, I started taking more law courses and I was accepted into William Mitchell following my graduation from the University of Minnesota.”
Laidlaw said he’s grateful for the opportunity.
“I’m so appreciative that Jeff, the chief deputy county attorney, assistant county attorneys, and other staff have given me this great opportunity,” Laidlaw said. “They have made this opportunity a very enjoyable experience. I had no idea how supportive everyone would be—from the attorney’s office to the judges—it’s been an unbelievable experience that surpassed all my expectations.”
Edblad said Laidlaw has been an exceptional intern.
“Eric is in the top of the heat in regard to students we’ve had over the years,” Edblad said. “From his courtroom abilities, to the way he analyzes facts and files, to his writing skills, his relationship with myself and others in this office, and to his relationship with those in the courtroom—he has been outstanding. If Eric was a licensed attorney and we had a position open, we’d hire him immediately. Eric’s tried a number of court trials over the summer and tried a number of traffic cases, and he’s shown his ability to be a courtroom attorney and prosecute cases. He’s earned the respect of law enforcement officers who have testified in the cases, and we look forward to our continued relationship with him as he finishes his last year of law school.”
Working relationship with William Mitchell
Edblad explained the Isanti County Attorney’s Office has had a great working relationship with William Mitchell. Edblad mentioned he has spoken to some classes at the college, and other attorneys in the office also have relationships with William Mitchell.
He noted Assistant Isanti County Attorney Stacy St. George is an adjunct faculty member at William Mitchell and teaches a client counseling course. He mentioned her Client Counseling Team has advanced to the national competition three out of the last five years, with one year finishing third in the nation.
Edblad also mentioned Chief Deputy Isanti County Attorney Tom Wedes teaches a trial advocacy course at William Mitchell.
“I’m glad we have a good working relationship with William Mitchell,” Edblad said. “Through this relationship we have given opportunities to young and upcoming lawyers to gain real experiences.”
Ted Sampsell-Jones has been a professor at William Mitchell since 2007, and teaches criminal law, criminal procedure, evidence, advanced evidence and sentencing.
This past spring, Sampsell-Jones taught sentencing for the first time, and contacted the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission to see whether any Commission members would be willing to come speak to his class.
“I was very fortunate when both Jeff Edblad and Court of Appeals Judge Gordon Shumaker agreed to come,” Sampsell-Jones said. “It was a very informative and interesting day not just for my students, but for me as well. After class, Jeff and I were talking, and we discussed the possibility that he might be able to take an intern at some point.”
Sampsell-Jones arranged for Laidlaw to work in Isanti County.
“This is the first time I’ve arranged for someone to work up in Isanti, and I do whatever I can to help our students get internships and jobs,” Sampsell-Jones said. “There is only so much I can teach them in the classroom—to really learn how to be a lawyer, they need to get out and work with lawyers in the field. Because I specialize in criminal law, I spend a lot of time working with students who are interested in a career in criminal law, whether as prosecutors or defense attorneys. And I advise all of them to try to arrange internships during school, so I was thrilled when Jeff offered to take one.”
Sampsell-Jones said the working relationship with the Isanti County Attorney’s Office is important.
“It is really critical for us as a school, and for the next generation of lawyers, that there are lawyers in the community like Jeff who are willing to serve as mentors for law students,” Sampsell-Jones said. “I think that is one of the best things about the legal profession—that established lawyers like Jeff take the time to help younger lawyers like Eric get started.
“William Mitchell is extremely grateful to Jeff and the Isanti County Attorney’s Office for their willingness to take law student interns. One of our primary goals as an institution is to maintain a good relationship with members of the bar, and Eric’s invaluable experience this summer is a perfect example of why that’s so important,” he added.
Edblad feels honored to be able to make a difference in the lives of law students.
“The caliber of students we’ve had in our office have been very good, and it’s really rewarding to be able to give something back to the profession,” Edblad said. “I’m glad we’ve had the opportunity in this office to help students with their educational process and teach them how to be prosecutors.”