Southwestern Law School Los Angeles, CA

News Release

Southwestern Student Participates in Military Externship Opportunity May 05, 2011
Southwestern Student Participates in Military Externship Opportunity

For those who are not in the military, the thought of a court martial will probably evoke images of Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson exchanging heated barbs in "A Few Good Men." When third-year student Denise Quintana thought about practicing military law, she wanted to learn what it was really like. An externship opportunity with the California Army National Guard helped her learn the fundamentals while gaining valuable experience and getting a taste of lifestyle in the service. Throughout the semester, Quintana has externed at the California Army National Guard Judge Advocate General Corps of the 40th Infantry Division in Los Alamitos. She has been working on a court martial (a military trial) involving an accusation of sexual assault.

Her supervisor, Captain Dwight Stirling, is a Judge Advocate for the prosecution. When topics come up that require research and writing, he assigns these subjects to his externs. In the court martial that Quintana worked on, one of issues that arose was that the defendant allegedly provided a confession that was recorded on three DVDs. But one of the discs malfunctioned.

"Obviously, I want to use the part of the confessions on the second and third discs, but the defense will say that without disc one, the confession can't be put into context," Captain Stirling explained. "So I had Denise research legal precedents based on military case law to help me make arguments for using the discs. Then I had her write a research memo and reduce it to the first draft of a motion (the final draft will go to the judge) explaining why these discs should be allowed." The case was scheduled for February but got continued until the end of June. In the meantime, Quintana and the other externs have been conducting a "mock court martial" to look at the case from all angles and get an idea of how it may play out.

The externs have also taken several field trips, such as going to see trials and meeting with judges. Additionally, they have been given the opportunity to practice skills not typically associated with lawyering. "The most unique thing we have done is EST 2000 training, which is a shooting simulator for the M4 and M16," Quintana said. "I really enjoyed that."
Quintana also benefitted from meeting high ranking military personnel, hearing about what they do, and learning how the rank structure works. The whole experience gave her a glimpse of the future and reinforced her desire to become an active member of the military as a JAG (judge advocate general). She has applied to several programs and is currently an alternate for the Army JAG. "My presentation skills have greatly improved during this experience," Quintana said. "I believe I have gained more professional confidence and have become more secure with voicing my opinion, especially if I disagree. These improvements were largely due to the way Captain Stirling runs the externship. He is very involved with the externs and is always giving feedback that will make our work better."

Captain Stirling, who practiced civil litigation until the events of September 11, 2001 compelled him to join the army, says that Quintana has made a wonderful contribution to his office. "It's been a pleasure working with Denise because she brings an intellectual curiosity that makes her enjoyable to have on the team," he said. "She's always looking to figure out why the process works the way that it does, as well as coming up with recommendations for how to improve it. She doesn't just accept business as usual as the only way; she actively looks for ways to make the system better."