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Michael Cretella, JD/MELP 2009

A photo of Michael Cretella
The best part is when the chief justice calls you in and wants to talk with you about the issues. You sit there and there’s this back-and-forth.”

Undergraduate Degree:

BA, Environmental Studies, Middlebury College

Career Before Law School:

Wilderness survival instructor

During the fall semester of his second year, Michael Cretella joined a small group of students for a gathering in Vermont Law School's Map Room, where they met with Chief Justice Paul Reiber of the Vermont Supreme Court.

As part of the VLS Judicial Externship Program, students are matched with federal and state judges around the country for one semester in their second or third year. In Vermont, the Supreme Court pairs a student with each of its five justices for an inside look at how the court operates.

Michael hadn't given the program much thought before attending the session, but that quickly changed. "I went and I thought, 'This sounds amazing!' Just about everybody there was fired up."

He submitted his résumé and by January he found himself beginning an externship working with Chief Justice Reiber and his clerk, Gavin Boyles, a 2006 VLS graduate.

A high point of the externship came when the chief justice asked him to research and write a memo based on a rule of evidence in a pending case. Michael’s enthusiasm was evident.

"Nervous that I might miss something important, I wrote him this 14-page, single-spaced memo. I found every case on that one narrow issue, and included them all," he says, laughing at the thought of such a rambling memo. The chief justice and Gavin worked closely with Michael, teaching him the craft of writing more concise memos, which he promptly did. He was later offered the chance to draft an opinion.

"The best part is when he calls you in and wants to talk with you about the issues. You sit there and there’s this back-and-forth," he says of his meetings with the chief justice. "They use you as a sounding board."

Michael, whose pursuits before law school included competing in the North American Extreme Telemark Skiing Championships, had at one time considered becoming a teacher, but instead set his sights on environmental law.

It seemed a good fit for his background: he started teaching wilderness survival skills in high school, was a naturalist with the Appalachian Mountain Club, and served as a wilderness guide in California before traveling to Lenk, Switzerland, where he worked as an environmental education instructor.

Now, having seen the workings of the court from the inside, he has a better idea of what he would like to do after graduation. "I'm more excited than ever about getting clerkships," he says. "This experience is really unbelievable."