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Thomas Gowen '71
Thomas Gowen '71

Externship Takes Students To Supreme Court

Fetch coffee and make copies? Not exactly. During their recent January externship at Locks Law Firm in Philadelphia, James Bowditch III ’12 and Chelsea Dunkel BMC ’11, got to go a lot farther than to the local Starbucks; they made it all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States. Thomas Gowen ’71, a partner in the firm who has been hosting Haverford and Bryn Mawr externs for more than 20 years, brought this semester’s lucky students along to hear arguments in a case, J. McIntyre Machinery Ltd. v. Nicastro, for which he had written an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief. “It was a great coincidence that the dates came together like they did,” says Gowen of the student’s fortuitous externship timing.

The Supreme Court’s gallery is open to the public during arguments, but to get an idea of how rare the students' opportunity actually is, consider this: despite a 34-year career in the legal profession, the January trip with the students was Gowen’s first time inside the nation’s highest court while it was in session. (“The gallery space is remarkably small for such an awesome and powerful court,” he noted with surprise.)

“Tom was great,” says an enthusiastic Bowditch about his four-day experience with the alum, who even invited his externs to bunk with his family. “His two sons live down in D.C., they’re both lawyers, and we stayed with them Monday night. They were so incredibly welcoming. I was absolutely amazed.”

Gowen, for his part, was equally impressed with the students, who asked to read some of the case material and Gowen’s own brief in advance of the big day. “They pretty well understood what the issue was by the time we got in to hear the argument,” he says, “and they asked good questions.”

The issue at stake concerns the question of whether or not a state can exercise jurisdiction over a foreign manufacturer if it has made a product that results in injury in the United States, a subject about which Gowen, a complex personal injury expert, has testified before Congress. A New Jersey man was injured at work by a UK-made machine whose manufacturer claims it can’t be sued in New Jersey because it has never targeted that state’s market for its products. The case isn’t about whether or not the machine’s manufacturer is at fault for the injury, but simply if it is even possible to sue the foreign company in state court. “If you can’t even get [a company] into court in the first place, then it’s hard to hold them accountable,” explains Gowen. “That’s why we thought this issue was so important, to make it easier to get them into court, where they would have to answer for their product.” (The Court has yet to return a decision.)

The externship program, which is run by Amy Feifer, the associate director of the Bryn Mawr/Haverford Career Development Office, is a short, twice-yearly opportunity for students to shadow alumni in different professions as a way to consider different career paths. “It’s a really great idea,” says Bowditch, a philosophy and sociology double major, of the program. “[Students] need an opportunity to explore different fields in a low-stakes environment. And it allows kids like me, who don’t know exactly what kind of work they want to go into, to explore and check out different options.”

The program, which was started in 1973, places approximately 180-190 students a year. This year almost 150 alumni are sponsoring externs, many of them during spring break, and the Career Development Office is always looking to expand its roster of willing hosts.

Though Bowditch is still unsure if he will pursue a law degree after Haverford, he says that he learned a lot from his externship and is grateful for the opportunity. “Tom is certainly an inspiration to those who are lucky enough to extern with him,” he says. Even if they don’t get to go to the Supreme Court.

The ramp from Magill Library with Ryan Gym and Sharpless Hall in the background.

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