UVA Law Student Monica Haymond Reports, Researches Alongside NPR's Nina Totenberg

Monica Haymond and Nina Totenberg

As an extern for NPR's Nina Totenberg, right, second-year law student Monica Haymond is building skills that will also help her as a lawyer.

December 15, 2014

The first job Monica Haymond ever applied for was Supreme Court justice.

As a child, Haymond, who is a second-year student at the University of Virginia School of Law, watched Ruth Bader Ginsburg's confirmation. When another seat opened, she wrote out her resume in crayon and sent it to the White House.

This semester Haymond finally got her seat at the court — as an extern with NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg.

Haymond applied for the NPR externship on the first day first-year law students are able to apply (per American Bar Association rules).

"This was a job that hit on everything I love doing," said Haymond, who is from Pasadena, California.

Not long after an interview, Totenberg called and offered her the job, which involves covering the Supreme Court and legal news — work that tied in with her long-term interests in writing and the court.

Before law school, Haymond started a Supreme Court blog while working as an analyst for the appeals board of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, attending morning oral arguments and writing about the cases.

"It was a place for me to practice writing about difficult legal concepts for a non-legal audience," Haymond said. In her role at NPR, she's building on those same skills in a much bigger way.

"Monica sits about eight feet from my desk and therefore is part of everything I do," Totenberg said. 

On days the Supreme Court hears oral arguments, Haymond sits in the press section of the court taking notes on what the justices and advocates are saying. Back at the office, Haymond and Totenberg compare notes, and Haymond helps prepare the radio piece by grabbing quotes from the transcript, fact-checking, re-reading the briefs, and assisting with recording in-studio interviews. While Totenberg puts the finishing touches on the radio broadcast, Haymond converts the piece into a print draft for the Web, for Totenberg to review.

"Then we're pulling out the briefs for the next case and it starts all over again," Haymond said.

For cases that can't receive a full story, Haymond writes one-minute "news spots" for Totenberg to read on air. Even though the stories are shorter, they involve the same amount of work — reading the briefs, listening to the oral arguments, and distilling the case into just a few short sentences.

During breaks in the Supreme Court's schedule, the two cover other legal issues, including breaking a story from Nevada where the FBI conducted potentially unconstitutional undercover operations in a casino's hotel. Haymond published a story in December on the ramifications of collateral consequences imposed on people with a criminal record.

But it's not all work and no play.

"I bring her with me any time I can, whether it is to a totally boring briefing or a flossy reception or coffee with the GC of a Fortune 500 company," Totenberg said.

Haymond says she's using her constitutional law, civil procedure, and law and public service classes to help her understand what's going on at the court.

"It's interesting to see those concepts play out right in front of me in the court," Haymond said.

Her position is an independent externship sponsored by Professor Josh Bowers. She'll write a paper at the end.

"The skills Monica is crafting as a legal journalist are the same skills that make for good lawyering," Bowers said. "From some of the best in the business, Monica is learning firsthand how to deconstruct complex legal questions and represent them in ways accessible to a smart lay audience." 

At the Law School, Haymond serves as vice president of the American Constitution Society and as treasurer for the Virginia Employment and Labor Law Association. She is also a fellow in the Law and Public Service program, on the staff for the Journal of Law and Politics, and has participated in the William Minor Lile Moot Court Competition.

She received her undergraduate degree in political science and sociology from the University of California at Davis.

After law school, Haymond says she has her eye on appellate work, but wants to continue writing in every way she can.

"As a lawyer you take the case your client needs, but as a journalist you're satisfying a curiosity about the world at large. They're closely tied, but fun in different ways," Haymond said.


Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.

News Highlights