Is a clerkship worth pursuing?

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quakeroats
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Is a clerkship worth pursuing?

Postby quakeroats » Sat Jun 11, 2011 1:43 pm

It's widely assumed that clerking is valuable. Former clerks tend to speak about their clerkship in almost mythical terms, and law schools like to place as many students in AIII clerkships as they can. From what I've read, I suspect there isn't as much value in clerking as is supposed. A few thoughts:

1. Clerkships seem to cost money. If you make 60k as a clerk for a year or two, you'll miss out on 160+170+bonuses of let's say 30 and 40=400k for 2 years at a firm. In return you get your 60+60+ signing bonus of around 75=195k or 270k if they give you a second bonus for 2 years of clerking. If you manage to get a SCOTUS clerkship you’ll have a signing bonus of 250k, but 250+60+60=370k for your two clerkship years and you have to take that 250k as a bonus as, say, a 3rd year associate with a salary of 185k and bonus of around 45k=480k of taxable income in one year compared to the non-clerk who gets his compensation over several years. While 250k sounds like a lot, it seems like you’ll end up with more money if you skip clerking.

2. Lots of famous litigators didn’t clerk and suffered no clear ill effect. To name three: David Boies, Ted Olsen, and John Quinn.

3. Clerkships don’t make sense if you end up outside of litigation. I say this because I’ve heard some firms won’t pay for corporate associates to clerk, I don’t see a lot of corporate lawyers who clerked, and the conventional wisdom seems to agree.

4. I can’t think of a mechanism that allows clerking to provide significant career benefits with the exception of a SCOTUS clerkship. Let’s say a clerk lands a COA clerkship with the most prestigious judge possible. How does that confer benefits? Presumably you’ll get to know the judge and his process well when you clerk, but what’s the likelihood you’ll deal with that same judge again, and even if you do will the knowledge you’ve gained help you? Will it be dispositive? Could you just read, talk to other lawyers, or spend the year or two you would have clerked on things that provide the same—or perhaps an even greater—benefit? Once you’re at a firm for a few years, does anyone still care, in any tangible way, that you clerked? Will they make a partnership decision based on it? Will you get better assignments? Will an associate who didn’t clerk but does good work lose out to a lesser associate who clerked? If you manage a SCOTUS clerkship (and perhaps if you get a really nice COA clerkship) I can see practicing before the Supreme Court and entering the academy becoming easier, but that’s a small subset inside of small subset.
Last edited by quakeroats on Sat Jun 11, 2011 3:38 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Is a clerkship worth perusing?

Postby BlueDiamond » Sat Jun 11, 2011 1:53 pm

quakeroats wrote:It's widely assumed that clerking is valuable. Former clerks tend to speak about their clerkship in almost mythical terms, and law schools like to place as many students in AIII clerkships as they can. From what I've read, I suspect there isn't as much value in clerking as is supposed. A few thoughts:

1. Clerkships seem to cost money. If you make 60k as a clerk for a year or two, you'll miss out on 160+170+bonuses of let's say 30 and 40=400k for 2 years at a firm. In return you get your 60+60+ signing bonus of around 75=195k or 270k if they give you a second bonus for 2 years of clerking. If you manage to get a SCOTUS clerkship you’ll have a signing bonus of 250k, but 250+60+60=370k for your two clerkship years and you have to take that 250k as a bonus as, say, a 3rd year associate with a salary of 185k and bonus of around 45k=480k of taxable income in one year compared to the non-clerk who gets his compensation over several years. While 250k sounds like a lot, it seems like you’ll end up with more money if you skip clerking.

2. Lots of famous litigators didn’t clerk and suffered no clear ill effect. To name three: David Boies, Ted Olsen, and John Quinn.

3. Clerkships don’t make sense if you end up outside of litigation. I say this because I’ve heard some firms won’t pay for corporate associates to clerk, I don’t see a lot of corporate lawyers who clerked, and the conventional wisdom seems to agree.

4. I can’t think of a mechanism that allows clerking to provide significant career benefits with the exception of a SCOTUS clerkship. Let’s say a clerk lands a COA clerkship with the most prestigious judge possible. How does that confer benefits? Presumably you’ll get to know the judge and his process well when you clerk, but what’s the likelihood you’ll deal with that same judge again, and even if you do will the knowledge you’ve gained help you? Will it be dispositive? Could you just read, talk to other lawyers, or spend the year or two you would have clerked on things that provide the same—or perhaps an even greater—benefit? Once you’re at a firm for a few years, does anyone still care, in any tangible way, that you clerked? Will they make a partnership decision based on it? Will you get better assignments? Will an associate who didn’t clerk but does good work lose out to a lesser associate who clerked? If you manage a SCOTUS clerkship (and perhaps if you get a really nice COA clerkship) I can see practicing before the Supreme Court and entering the academy becoming easier, but that’s a small subset inside of small subset.


1. yes you will make less money... check out the dollars per hour and you might change your mind though.. but nobody doubts that you make a lower salary

2. Nobody says it is necessary.. you can still do well without clerking

3. Most people who want to get into corporate work aren't even interested in clerking

4. The significant benefit is one or two years of partnership track credit for M-F 9-5

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Re: Is a clerkship worth perusing?

Postby M.I.T. L. Rev. » Sat Jun 11, 2011 1:58 pm

quakeroats wrote:you'll miss out on 160+170+bonuses of let's say 30 and 40=400k for 2 years at a firm.
I stopped reading here.

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thesealocust
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Re: Is a clerkship worth perusing?

Postby thesealocust » Sat Jun 11, 2011 1:59 pm

(1) Clerking is a net loser on money, you're right. The math you used is off by a bit, especially because the overwhelming majority of clerks do so for just one year. The most likely to be accurate example is thus 160K + bonus vs. 50-70K + 50K signing bonus. You do leave money on the table to clerk, but it's relatively small.

(2) Granted.

(3) Most good firms pay for corporate associates to clerk the same way they do for lit, but they are much less likely to re-hire you if you go law school -> corporate practice at firm -> clerk than if you had gone law school -> lit practice at firm -> clerk. There are plenty of corporate partners out there who clerked, some even for the Supreme Court. I've even heard some corporate partners go on at length about the benefits of clerking. That being said, it is obviously less useful, and I've heard plenty of corporate partners suggest it's totally useless to clerk if you're going transactional.

(4) Many suggest that the thinking and writing you do for a judge is excellent training, and at least different if not strictly better than being a junior associate. It's a persuasively enjoyable way to spend a year, as it is hopefully a tight mentoring relationship. There's a reason why most former clerks sing high praises of their experiences. The real benefit to firms doesn't seem to come from some dispositive bit of legal experience or knowledge, but rather some low-level benefit of having a team of lawyers who know how judges across the country work coupled with market forces that mean failing to actively recruit clerks could be disastrous with respect to obtaining and retaining attorneys.

I don't think you could realistically make the case that pursuing a clerkship was ever not worth it. But that doesn't mean everyone should do it, or that you'd be missing out majorly by sitting on the sidelines. I know a good number of people with perfect credentials (EIC of LR types) who never sent a single application and don't seem to have lost any sleep over it.

BlueDiamond wrote:4. The significant benefit is one or two years of partnership track credit for M-F 9-5


You can't assume that. Many chambers operate that way, but many involve substantially longer hours and more stress. Also partnership credit is double-speak at its finest: You'll start at the firm getting 1st year assignments because you won't know how to do anything, and only a tiny fraction of clerks make partner anyway, just like the rest of the crop. It's more accurate to say one or two years of salary increases, since that's a benefit a clerk will actually see. Also, double clerkships really are rare, so the analysis makes most sense focusing on a 1 year clerking experience.

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quakeroats
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Re: Is a clerkship worth perusing?

Postby quakeroats » Sat Jun 11, 2011 2:29 pm

thesealocust wrote:(1) Clerking is a net loser on money, you're right. The math you used is off by a bit, especially because the overwhelming majority of clerks do so for just one year. The most likely to be accurate example is thus 160K + bonus vs. 50-70K + 50K signing bonus. You do leave money on the table to clerk, but it's relatively small.

(2) Granted.

(3) Most good firms pay for corporate associates to clerk the same way they do for lit, but they are much less likely to re-hire you if you go law school -> corporate practice at firm -> clerk than if you had gone law school -> lit practice at firm -> clerk. There are plenty of corporate partners out there who clerked, some even for the Supreme Court. I've even heard some corporate partners go on at length about the benefits of clerking. That being said, it is obviously less useful, and I've heard plenty of corporate partners suggest it's totally useless to clerk if you're going transactional.

(4) Many suggest that the thinking and writing you do for a judge is excellent training, and at least different if not strictly better than being a junior associate. It's a persuasively enjoyable way to spend a year, as it is hopefully a tight mentoring relationship. There's a reason why most former clerks sing high praises of their experiences. The real benefit to firms doesn't seem to come from some dispositive bit of legal experience or knowledge, but rather some low-level benefit of having a team of lawyers who know how judges across the country work coupled with market forces that mean failing to actively recruit clerks could be disastrous with respect to obtaining and retaining attorneys.

I don't think you could realistically make the case that pursuing a clerkship was ever not worth it. But that doesn't mean everyone should do it, or that you'd be missing out majorly by sitting on the sidelines. I know a good number of people with perfect credentials (EIC of LR types) who never sent a single application and don't seem to have lost any sleep over it.

BlueDiamond wrote:4. The significant benefit is one or two years of partnership track credit for M-F 9-5


You can't assume that. Many chambers operate that way, but many involve substantially longer hours and more stress. Also partnership credit is double-speak at its finest: You'll start at the firm getting 1st year assignments because you won't know how to do anything, and only a tiny fraction of clerks make partner anyway, just like the rest of the crop. It's more accurate to say one or two years of salary increases, since that's a benefit a clerk will actually see. Also, double clerkships really are rare, so the analysis makes most sense focusing on a 1 year clerking experience.


Thank you for the thoughtful response. One issue I have is that most of the benefits you mentioned are intangible. I'm suspicious of benefits that are difficult or impossible to articulate, especially when those benefits are defended as obvious or incontrovertible--as clerking's often are. As far as I know, judges aren't hired, paid, or expected to be good mentors. While I'm sure many of them are excellent at counseling clerks, isn't the likelihood of finding a good mentor higher in, for example, a large firm? If you want litigation, wouldn't spending a year or two doing PI or government or other work that let's you take on real responsibility be more helpful than clerking?

My real point in bringing this up is that I think clerking is oversold. I'm sure it provides some benefits to some clerks, but it isn't sold that way. While your view isn't evangelical, I'd say most in a position to give advice on clerking sell it zealously. Clerking is usually sold as a if-you-can-you-must experience, and I just don't see it.

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Re: Is a clerkship worth perusing?

Postby rayiner » Sat Jun 11, 2011 2:40 pm

Aside from the clerkship itself, there is the signaling issue. When you want to lateral to another firm or go into government (at least for litigation), a clerkship sends a strong signal that your grades and school don't necessarily.

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Re: Is a clerkship worth perusing?

Postby thesealocust » Sat Jun 11, 2011 2:49 pm

quakeroats wrote:Thank you for the thoughtful response. One issue I have is that most of the benefits you mentioned are intangible. I'm suspicious of benefits that are difficult or impossible to articulate, especially when those benefits are defended as obvious or incontrovertible--as clerking's often are. As far as I know, judges aren't hired, paid, or expected to be good mentors. While I'm sure many of them are excellent at counseling clerks, isn't the likelihood of finding a good mentor higher in, for example, a large firm? If you want litigation, wouldn't spending a year or two doing PI or government or other work that let's you take on real responsibility be more helpful than clerking?

My real point in bringing this up is that I think clerking is oversold. I'm sure it provides some benefits to some clerks, but it isn't sold that way. While your view isn't evangelical, I'd say most in a position to give advice on clerking sell it zealously. Clerking is usually sold as a if-you-can-you-must experience, and I just don't see it.


For the record, I agree with you almost entirely. I think it's oversold, I just don't see it, and I myself have no intentions to clerk. I don't think I would be as comfortable with that decision were it not for a (very positive) internship with a federal judge, however. It was great, but it didn't make me think I'd be leaving a totally unique and amazing life experience on the table.

But yeah, I'm with you. At the very least for people pursuing corporate work. I think Rayiner is on to something on the litigation side, especially if you think about it more as reverse signaling: with so many people clerking, it might look weird not to have if you're pursuing certain kinds of other jobs later in life.

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Re: Is a clerkship worth perusing?

Postby Patriot1208 » Sat Jun 11, 2011 2:54 pm

aren't we erroneously assuming here that clerkships don't open doors later on that otherwise would be closed? And that you are spending more time in biglaw if you don't clerk than you do?

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Re: Is a clerkship worth perusing?

Postby thesealocust » Sat Jun 11, 2011 2:57 pm

Patriot1208 wrote:aren't we erroneously assuming here that clerkships don't open doors later on that otherwise would be closed? And that you are spending more time in biglaw if you don't clerk than you do?


(1) I haven't ever really heard somebody seriously claim a clerkship opened a door that was otherwise closed except for academia and appellate litigation practices. And I've talked to a LOT of lawyers from several walks of life and practice areas from lit to corporate to lobbying about clerkships.

(2) I don't think any of the arguments suggest more or less time will be spent in biglaw at the end of the day, just that the net income to two people following different paths will be slightly higher for those who do not clerk. 8 years out the non-clerk will still have a higher salary potential unless the clerk did CoA -> SCOTUS to pocket the $250,000.

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Re: Is a clerkship worth perusing?

Postby Patriot1208 » Sat Jun 11, 2011 3:02 pm

thesealocust wrote:
Patriot1208 wrote:aren't we erroneously assuming here that clerkships don't open doors later on that otherwise would be closed? And that you are spending more time in biglaw if you don't clerk than you do?


(1) I haven't ever really heard somebody seriously claim a clerkship opened a door that was otherwise closed except for academia and appellate litigation practices. And I've talked to a LOT of lawyers from several walks of life and practice areas from lit to corporate to lobbying about clerkships.

(2) I don't think any of the arguments suggest more or less time will be spent in biglaw at the end of the day, just that the net income to two people following different paths will be slightly higher for those who do not clerk. 8 years out the non-clerk will still have a higher salary potential unless the clerk did CoA -> SCOTUS to pocket the $250,000.


In regards to 2, most people seem to leave biglaw on their own in 3-5ish years, so 5 years out it may be a net loss but 8 years out, if you were going to spend 5 years in biglaw no matter what, you should have a net positive depending on what you exit into.

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Re: Is a clerkship worth perusing?

Postby thesealocust » Sat Jun 11, 2011 3:07 pm

Patriot1208 wrote:In regards to 2, most people seem to leave biglaw on their own in 3-5ish years, so 5 years out it may be a net loss but 8 years out, if you were going to spend 5 years in biglaw no matter what, you should have a net positive depending on what you exit into.


That doesn't make sense.

8 year track 1: 60 (clerk) + biglaw for four years + 3 years of in house work

8 year track 2: biglaw for four years + 4 years of in house work

Not only will 4 years of inhouse work be more valuable than 3 + clerking, but the time value of money means that even if whatever our two hypothetical attorneys pursued after biglaw paid less than a clerkship, the person who didn't clerk might sitll be better off.

Really, these are small sums of money compared to career goals and satisfaction. But clerking below the Supreme Court level is objectively slightly financially inferior in all cases where other variables are held equal. Obviously if the non-clerk laterals to a nonprofit in China and the clerk laterals to another firm and make partner the clerk will win, but there isn't any evidence suggesting such outcomes are either more likely or more possible.

TL;DR don't try to clerk for the money.

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Re: Is a clerkship worth perusing?

Postby Renzo » Sat Jun 11, 2011 3:10 pm

Is a clerkship worth perusing?


Yes, I think it's worth perusing whether or not you wish to pursue a clerkship.

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Re: Is a clerkship worth perusing?

Postby Patriot1208 » Sat Jun 11, 2011 3:16 pm

Here This is simplified but still conveys my point

2 years of clerk at 60k = 120k

5 years in biglaw at an average of 190 = 950k + 250k bonus

1 year in house = 120k

Total = 1.44 mil

Or

5 years at an average of 190k = 950k

3 years of in house 120k = 360k

Total = 1.31 mil
time value may negate the difference, but the only point I was making was that money wise it isn't necessarily a net negative.

And if it's just one year you come out equal or very slightly down because of time value, but nothing worth making that decision over.

And yes, I know, the the calculations are more complicated than that.
Last edited by Patriot1208 on Sat Jun 11, 2011 3:38 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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Re: Is a clerkship worth perusing?

Postby thesealocust » Sat Jun 11, 2011 3:21 pm

Patriot1208 wrote: 250k bonus


The hell? $250,000 bonus is only for the roughly 36 Supreme Court clerks each year. If you can clerk for the Supreme Court, you can make more money than just going to big law. This should surprise nobody.

The current market for clerkship bonuses is a single $50,000 payment if you have clerked fro 1 year or a single $70,000 payment if you have clerked for 2 years. You know, for the hundreds of non-Supreme Court clerks thinking about this :roll:
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Re: Is a clerkship worth perusing?

Postby fatduck » Sat Jun 11, 2011 3:23 pm

ITT: thesealocust makes sense, apocalypse imminent

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Re: Is a clerkship worth perusing?

Postby Patriot1208 » Sat Jun 11, 2011 3:26 pm

thesealocust wrote:
Patriot1208 wrote: 250k bonus


The hell? $250,000 bonus is only for the roughly 36 Supreme Court clerks each year. If you can clerk for the Supreme Court, you can make more money than just going to big law. This should surprise nobody.

The current market for clerkship bonuses is a single $50,000 payment if you have clerked fro 1 year or a single $70,000 payment if you have clerked for 2 years. You know, for the hundreds of non-Supreme Court clerks thinking about this :roll:

I realize this, but I was responding to the OP. And with that simplified calculation above, at one year clerking, you come out at 1.3 mil.

I'm not arguing for clerkship for a monetary good investment, simply that it isn't necessarily a poor monetary investment or a net negative in the long run, especially if you start out higher on the lockstep promotions.
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Re: Is a clerkship worth perusing?

Postby vamedic03 » Sat Jun 11, 2011 3:28 pm

...
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Re: Is a clerkship worth perusing?

Postby vamedic03 » Sat Jun 11, 2011 3:28 pm

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Re: Is a clerkship worth perusing?

Postby quakeroats » Sat Jun 11, 2011 3:48 pm

vamedic03 wrote:i. Every former clerk I have talked to speaks very highly of their experience and believes that their clerkship has made them a better writer and a better lawyer.


I think this is problematic. Former clerks have a stake in the clerkship process. People openly criticize things they haven't invested in or things that everyone must do (e.g., law school is too long and doesn't prepare you for practice). However, not everyone clerks. For a clerk to publicly admit that his clerkship was a waste of time he also has to admit that he made a mistake.

Clerking is also widely viewed as prestigious and an acceptable topic of conversation which means (1) it's one of those rare times when you can brag without seeming dickish and (2) it becomes a default setting if it's an option. Basically, why go against the grain when agreeing with everyone else looks better?
Last edited by quakeroats on Sat Jun 11, 2011 4:19 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Is a clerkship worth perusing?

Postby Renzo » Sat Jun 11, 2011 5:51 pm

quakeroats wrote:
vamedic03 wrote:i. Every former clerk I have talked to speaks very highly of their experience and believes that their clerkship has made them a better writer and a better lawyer.


I think this is problematic. Former clerks have a stake in the clerkship process. People openly criticize things they haven't invested in or things that everyone must do (e.g., law school is too long and doesn't prepare you for practice). However, not everyone clerks. For a clerk to publicly admit that his clerkship was a waste of time he also has to admit that he made a mistake.?


This is the pretty twisted logic. By this theory, there should be no scambloggers, as they a) didn't have to go to law school and b) have to admit that they made a mistake and wasted their time.

Plenty of people, on this board and in real life, speak openly about things they did in law school that, in hindsight, they feel wasted their time. Why would clerks be any different?

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Re: Is a clerkship worth perusing?

Postby quakeroats » Sat Jun 11, 2011 6:30 pm

Renzo wrote:
quakeroats wrote:
vamedic03 wrote:i. Every former clerk I have talked to speaks very highly of their experience and believes that their clerkship has made them a better writer and a better lawyer.


I think this is problematic. Former clerks have a stake in the clerkship process. People openly criticize things they haven't invested in or things that everyone must do (e.g., law school is too long and doesn't prepare you for practice). However, not everyone clerks. For a clerk to publicly admit that his clerkship was a waste of time he also has to admit that he made a mistake.?


This is the pretty twisted logic. By this theory, there should be no scambloggers, as they a) didn't have to go to law school and b) have to admit that they made a mistake and wasted their time.

Plenty of people, on this board and in real life, speak openly about things they did in law school that, in hindsight, they feel wasted their time. Why would clerks be any different?


Scambloggers are no longer committed to their decision at all. My point doesn't hold for those who leave the fold entirely.

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Re: Is a clerkship worth pursuing?

Postby fatduck » Sat Jun 11, 2011 6:32 pm

scamblogging is also more "but i did everything right / the law school cabal sabotaged me / i couldn't get the real info because everyone's a liar" than "i knew the risks and failed"

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Re: Is a clerkship worth pursuing?

Postby thesealocust » Sat Jun 11, 2011 6:36 pm

I think Quakeroats is correct about the clerkship advice world having elements of a self-perpetuating echo chamber. At the same time, I know people that I respect, trust, and have a close relationship with who still glow about clerking, so I'm not convinced the echo chamber effect actually falsifies the endorsements.

I think the one thing that gets overstated is zOMG everyone should clerk everyone. It's just a job, and it isn't right for everyone.

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Re: Is a clerkship worth perusing?

Postby Cupidity » Sat Jun 11, 2011 6:44 pm

BlueDiamond wrote:
4. The significant benefit is one or two years of partnership track credit for M-F 9-5


TITCR

I'm working in a federal court this summer as an intern, and the Clerks there LOVE their jobs. It looks incredible, its fun, great hours, and low time commitment. It gives you a year or two to settle down, arrange your finances and plan your future before you stumble into the hellish world of biglaw. And if you ever want to exit biglaw to academia, its a prerequisite.

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Re: Is a clerkship worth pursuing?

Postby 20160810 » Sat Jun 11, 2011 6:49 pm

For me the appeal lies in having a transition between law student hours and firm hours




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