At a very young age, Columbia Law School graduate MarLa Duncan ’13 knew she loved the law. While attending middle school in Omaha, Neb., she served as a member of the jury for her local high school teen court. A few years later, Duncan was picked to be a judge. The experience, she says, gave her an early—and, she concedes, scaled-down—glimpse into what it would be like to work in a courtroom.
Duncan, who holds a bachelor’s degree in comparative human development from the University of Chicago, worked to build her understanding of litigation while at the Law School. In the summer after her first year, she served as a legal intern in the Crime Strategies Unit of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office. There, Duncan worked for New York County District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. researching issues relating to weapons-possession charges, the admissibility of hearsay evidence, and the use of video identification in grand jury proceedings.
She then spent a semester as a judicial intern for Judge Lewis Bart Stone of the Criminal Branch of the New York Supreme Court, where she helped write judicial opinions and received the opportunity to sit in on jury selections, hearings, trials, and sentencing proceedings. The experience gave Duncan a behind-the-scenes look into the inner workings of the state court system.
“I’d sit next to [Judge Stone] in the courtroom, and he’d write notes to me about why he ruled the way he did on an objection,” she says. “He’d explain what he picked up from what the lawyer was saying to shape the ruling.”
Duncan now begins her career on the other side of the bench, working as a litigation associate at Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson in New York City. She served as a summer associate at the firm in 2012.
“I’m excited to be practicing law and learning how to think like a lawyer,” Duncan says. “I’m ready to stop talking about it and start doing it.”