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Supreme Lessons


Nicole Teo ’24J talks about her experience interning at the nation’s highest court

Nicole Teo standing outside of the Supreme Court

Published October 25, 2023

Dressed in a professional suit and heels, with two government internships already under her belt, Nicole Teo ’24J was more than ready for the first day of her internship at the U.S. Supreme Court—but she couldn’t help being a little nervous. “It felt really crazy to be walking into such a historic building that is such a landmark for so many reasons,” she says.

Teo, who is majoring in government, with a minor in East Asian studies, fell in love with Washington, D.C., when she moved there to participate in Smith’s Jean Picker Semester-in-Washington Program, which provides select students with an opportunity to study national public policy though the summer and the fall semester. Teo worked for Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) over the summer, and in the fall she joined the rules committee staff in the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, with the Office of the General Counsel. “My fall internship made me realize I enjoy working in the federal judiciary and seeing it at work,” Teo says. “That’s what prompted me to apply to the Supreme Court.

Here, in her own words, she talks about her internship at the Supreme Court—what she learned, her future plans, and the value of the Smith network. 

The internship

I worked in the Clerk’s Office of the Supreme Court with another intern from Stanford. The Clerk’s Office receives and maintains documents submitted to the court and issues orders, judgments, and mandates of the court. It also provides procedural guidance to attorneys and litigants who are appealing in front of the court. My primary responsibility was to provide administrative support to Supreme Court staff, which included a wide variety of tasks, from processing and maintenance of the court filings and records to providing assistance with case-related inquiries from attorneys and litigants. 

Biggest surprise

What really surprised me was that in an iconic institution and in a building known for its grandeur, the people who worked there were so kind and down to earth. I got to interact with a variety of other offices in the court, and everyone was so genuine, and so willing to help and talk with all the interns. As someone who wants to go to law school in the future, that was an incredible opportunity to be able to talk to everyone and build really meaningful relationships with people there.

A valuable lesson

There are a lot of pro se litigants who appeal before the court—indigent people who cannot afford or don’t have adequate counsel, but are still appealing to the court. Seeing just how diligently everyone at the clerk’s office worked toward helping everybody and responding to everyone—you really saw public service at work. I also learned the importance of educating people about legal resources and how to access them. 


I think being in a building like the Supreme Court makes you very introspective about the role of institutions. Seeing good, genuine people working there made me believe a lot more in our institution and instilled faith in the way our judiciary functions. I am very grateful for the incredible friendships I made during my time there. Finally, I think there was a lot of value in seeing the inner workings of the Supreme Court, especially as someone who has not yet even been to law school. 

The big picture 

The biggest thing I took away is the value of public service. In the judiciary, you’re talking about justice, about the law, about giving everyone a chance—these are very big ideas. They’re things that you read about, then you realize that this is built one step at a time—one brick at a time—and it takes every person there to make this whole system function. 

A Smith foundation

Being at Smith has made me more confident in speaking up, in going after opportunities that seemed so wild. I was very nervous that I would be rejected for the Supreme Court internship, but knowing I had the support of my professors and my advisers helped a lot. My Smith experiences gave me the skills I needed to succeed at an internship like this. 

The future

The plan is to return to D.C. and get some real-world experience before law school. I was introduced to the Smith club there when I was in the Picker program, so I’m definitely going to stay in touch because it’s such an active club. I want to continue to reach out to more alums and build mentorship relationships; there are a lot of alums who are very much willing to help new grads. I could definitely see myself returning to the federal government, but I would also love the opportunity to explore the private or nonprofit sector. But, mostly, I’m excited to learn more about myself, both personally and professionally, in the next couple of years. 

Cheryl Dellecese is a senior editor in the Office of College Relations.

Photograph by Jen Joseph Photography