Inside Bernadette Guerra's 'Whirlwind' LLM Experience

Bernie Guerra
December 04, 2017

In a new interview with GW Law, Bernadette Guerra, LLM Class of '18, spoke about the role Alfreda Robinson, Associate Dean for Trial Advocacy, played in her pursuit of an LLM degree and about her current internship with the Honorable Anna Blackburne-Rigsby, Chief Judge of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals.

While Ms. Guerra was finishing her third year of law school at St. Thomas University School of Law, she met Associate Dean Robinson in her school's courtyard. Tamara F. Lawson, Associate Dean of Academic Affairs at St. Thomas, introduced Dean Robinson to Ms. Guerra, who was her research assistant at the time. Dean Robinson spoke about the LLM Program in Litigation and Dispute Resolution at GW Law. Ms. Guerra, who was figuring out what she wanted to do next after earning her JD, found the program’s focus on skills training intriguing. She wanted to gain tactical and practical experience, which led her to apply to the program. Three weeks after sitting for the Florida Bar Exam, she moved to Washington, D.C. "I knew that something great could come out of this, and I knew D.C. is where I needed to be," Ms. Guerra said. 

When Ms. Guerra arrived at GW Law for orientation, she encountered Dean Robinson once again. Over the summer, Ms. Guerra had expressed to Dean Robinson that she was interested in pursuing an internship for additional experience. "I definitely wanted to do another internship and get my foot in the door somewhere to understand what it is like to work in D.C.," Ms. Guerra said. During orientation, Dean Robinson informed her that there was an opening available for an internship at Chief Judge Blackburne-Rigsby's chambers as a judicial fellow. She encouraged Ms. Guerra to pursue this opportunity.

Although Ms. Guerra was not familiar with D.C.'s judicial framework, she knew that having the chance to work with the Chief Judge was an opportunity that could not be missed. "For someone to say this is something that I could apply for—just saying that the opportunity existed—was important for me," Ms. Guerra said. By the time she was done with orientation, Ms. Guerra made time to edit her resume and cover letter, notified her references, and submitted her application. She was contacted a few days later and was interviewed. Ms. Guerra was offered an internship all within a span of two weeks after arriving in Washington, D.C. "It's been quite a whirlwind but everything fell into place," she said. "I didn't think I would get the position."

Ms. Guerra shared that she is grateful for Dean Robinson's guidance. "She presented the opportunity to me and encouraged me to apply. Dean Robinson was the facilitator, and she helped me find something that I wouldn't have been able to find on my own," she said. "Looking back, I didn't even know where to begin because everything was so new to me. I never predicted I would be doing appellate work, but I'm enjoying my time there."

The work, Ms. Guerra said, is challenging but also rewarding. She assists Chief Judge Blackburne-Rigsby by preparing legal memoranda and performing extensive research for cases coming before the Court. Ms. Guerra works closely with the Chief Judge's staff of law clerks and Special Counsel, and calls it a "great environment" to work in.

"If there's anything that I know I will take away from this experience, it is the knowledge," Ms. Guerra said. "I have been exposed to different areas of law, such as agency law and criminal law. There's so much to be exposed to, and I am lucky to have this opportunity to continue to learn."