The Florida Supreme Court is seeking extra funding to create a student fellowship program in Tallahassee.
The program, dubbed the Supreme Court Fellows Program, is the High Court’s only budget request ahead of the 2022 Legislative Session. If granted, it would mark a sizable expansion of the Court’s current internship offering and bring along notable changes.
“The Justices are actually very, very excited about this and so we hope we can get the funding to implement it,” Deputy State Courts Administrator Katie Cunningham told members of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice on Wednesday.
The current internship program is unpaid, a semester long and provides academic credit to law students. The unpaid aspect of the program, however, is an issue for prospective students with limited incomes.
“This really, really limits the applicant pool to those who can essentially afford to volunteer for a semester,” Cunningham explained.
Alternatively, the Fellows Program — which would cost $591,695 a year from general revenue — would be a paid two-semester program offering law students up to 18-hours of in-state tuition credit. The program would provide fellows with “a lot more experience” and would allow students “to handle more complex issues for the Justices, and will also be paid, which will give every law student even those without a lot of financial means the opportunity to participate,” Cunningham added.
The changes, Cunningham contended, would broaden the applicant pool and remedy the financial barriers facing law students.
“Even had my law school grades been good enough to apply for an internship, which I assure you they were not, I wouldn’t have been able to apply,” she told lawmakers. “I wouldn’t have been able to afford it.”
The 2022 Legislative Session begins Jan. 11.