New paths open at Akron Law to Federal clerkships and externships


The University of Akron School of Law

Judge Ryan T. Holte meets in chambers with future United States Court of Federal Claims clerk Emily Rich ‘21 and current clerks Nick Buchmuller ‘18 and Matt Modderman ‘21.

Former University of Akron School of Law Associate Professor Ryan T. Holte was sworn in as a judge of the United States Court of Federal Claims in the summer of 2019. Although he stepped down from his positions at UA as David L. Brennan Endowed Chair in Law and director of the Center for Intellectual Property Law and Technology (IP Law Center) for the role, he’s continued his affiliation with the law school. He teaches a remote course in IP law in the fall and an externship program in the spring as Jurist-In-Residence Professor of Law.

Like most federal judges, Holte has three one-year-term judicial law clerks in his chambers at a time and space for up to four externs per semester. He has selected many recent and future Akron Law graduates for these positions since joining the court and has grown Akron Law’s new Washington D.C. IP externship program.

“Akron Law students have long taken advantage of externship opportunities, but almost entirely in the local area,” said Professor Mark Schultz, Goodyear Chair and current director of the IP Law Center. “These Washington externships are a very special opportunity.”

With all externships, the goal is for students to get actual legal work experience where they can use the classroom knowledge they’ve gained in an applied setting. Externships are generally unpaid, but at Akron Law, students earn class credit, and they can apply for financial aid and some professional development funding to offset out-of-town travel expenses.

Washington IP externships

The Washington IP externships are available in the spring, summer and fall. Students work 3-5 days a week and take their other Akron Law courses online. In addition to the Court of Federal Claims, students may apply to IP law firms and IP-related government institutions such as the United States Patent and Trademark Office and the United States Copyright Office, which is part of the Library of Congress.

“Judge Holte is very supportive of IP externships, and not only in his own court. He also serves as the individual students’ faculty supervisor for all the School’s other IP externships.” said Akron Law 2L Austin Keith, who completed an externship in the judge’s court last summer.

“Many law students are reluctant to do externships, but I think they are such a unique opportunity,” Keith continued. “I learned so much. My writing and my blue-booking (legal citations) improved immediately. Everything that you need to succeed in the practice of law can be learned through working for a judge. And spending time in a major legal market outside of Akron is great networking.”

Holte will be Keith’s faculty supervisor during his second externship this spring with Judge Philip Calabrese of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio. Judge Holte will also supervise Akron Law 2L Megan Parker this spring during her externship with the Washington-based Copyright Alliance. He also served as the advisor for Akron Law student Doson Nguyen, who did a spring 2021 externship with Court of Federal Claims Senior Judge Eric G. Bruggink.

Claims Court clerkships

Shortly after Holte joined the Court of Federal Claims bench, he brought on 2018 Akron Law graduate Nick Bagnolo as part of his first trio of law clerks. Bagnolo had joined the Akron-based IP law firm Emerson Thomson Bennett as an associate after graduating and passing the bar. Following his one-year clerkship with Judge Holte, he joined Jones Day as an associate in the IP litigation group.

One year after Bagnolo started, Yunjun June Guo, a 2017 Akron Law graduate, succeeded him as a clerk in the judge’s chambers. She had been an associate with Sterne Kessler Goldstein & Fox, a leading national IP specialty law firm, for three years. Upon completing her clerkship this past August, she joined the global pharmaceutical company AbbVie as in-house counsel in Boston.

“Judicial clerkships in general, but especially at the federal trial and appellate level, are very prestigious for recent law school graduates,” said Alisa Benedict O’Brien, Akron Law assistant dean for career services and strategic initiatives. “Top law firms are usually very supportive of junior attorneys doing this type of work for a year or two.”

“Clerkships are a phenomenal way to understand the practice of law looking down from the judiciary’s perspective, before you work your way up in law practice,” she added. “They also offer exceptional experience in legal writing and research, with the added benefit of supervision, mentorship and networking.”

Two other Akron Law graduates are currently serving 2021-22 clerkships that began this August. Nick Buchmuller ’18 practiced for three years in Houston at Bracewell LLP, a large law firm with a nationally renowned patent law practice. He came to Akron Law with a chemical engineering degree from the University of Utah to pursue intellectual property studies after meeting the law school’s then-dean on a recruiting trip to Utah.

Matt Modderman ’21, a Northeast Ohio native, earned his undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Akron. For three of those years, he worked for The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company in a co-op program that included rotations at plants in Mexico and North Carolina as well as Akron.

The University of Akron School of Law

The United States Court of Federal Claims in Washington D.C.

“Akron’s School of Engineering set me up for what would have been an excellent career in tire engineering,” Modderman said. “It also positioned me in close proximity to one of the country’s best intellectual property law programs. I met Judge Holte – a fellow mechanical engineer – my senior year. He informed me of the tremendous opportunity a career in law had for engineers. I was convinced. I enrolled at Akron Law.”

Modderman flourished in the IP law program under Holte’s mentorship. He was an IP Law Center Fellow, worked as a patent agent for Akron/Cleveland IP specialty firms, and served as the managing editor of the IP edition of the Akron Law Review. Following a 2020 summer associate position at Jones Day, he received an offer to return to the firm as an associate after graduation. He deferred this offer to clerk for Judge Holte on the Court of Federal Claims for one year starting in August 2021.

Cross country site visit

As noted, judicial clerkships provide junior attorneys with a unique perspective. But few courts can compare with the national perspective at the Court of Federal Claims.

“Some of the interesting matters on our civil-only docket include patent infringement, Fifth Amendment takings, government contract, tax refund, Indian tribes and nations and vaccine injury,” Modderman said. “These complex cases provide excellent civil litigation training and the opportunity to observe talented large firm and Department of Justice attorneys argue in court. I hope to be an IP litigator following the clerkship, so this experience has been invaluable.”

Because the court is one of the few that has national jurisdiction, it often does site visits and holds hearings around the country where the parties to its cases are located.

The University of Akron School of Law

Matt Modderman and Judge Holte stand on the Pacific shore near the site of a visit for a case.

Modderman and Holte recently returned from a site visit to the Quileute Nation Reservation on the Pacific Coast in La Push, Wash., near Seattle. The case involved a contract dispute between a private contractor and the Army Corps of Engineers concerning Coast Guard marina dredging on Tribal land. The day after the visit, Judge Holte heard oral arguments at the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington (in downtown Seattle) on the parties’ motions for summary judgment.

“Any site visit or travel hearing is a wonderful experience and very unique to a Court of Federal Claims clerkship,” Modderman said. “Assisting a federal judge with oral argument preparation is a unique and extremely educational experience every law student and new lawyer should seek out. Just sitting in on diverse hearings and arguments is also a great benefit for any new legal career—you observe so many procedural nuances and practice styles for arguing before a judge that significantly add to a new litigator’s future courtroom toolkit.” 

Holte already has 2021 Akron Law graduate Emily Rich lined up for a 2022-23 clerkship. Like Modderman, she was an IP Fellow and on the Akron Law Review. Since September, she has been a patent litigation associate at the Washington DC office of the international law firm Perkins Coie LLP.

“Our relationship with Judge Holte adds an exciting dimension to our nationally ranked IP program,” said Akron Law dean Christopher J. (C.J.) Peters. “He has opened the door to unique opportunities for our students and graduates in Washington, D.C. I am really looking forward to his return to Akron for oral arguments in February 2022. Judge Holte’s visit will mark the third time a court has heard cases at Akron Law during our Centennial year, following the visits of the Army Court of Criminal Appeals in September and the Ohio Supreme Court in October.”

The judge will bring the Court of Federals Claims to Akron Law on Feb. 3, 2022 at 10a.m. in the Brennan Courtroom for oral arguments in a patent licensing contract dispute between a local company and NASA.

Read more: Law school unveils new Washington D.C. IP Externship program