State district court law clerk here, thought I’d chime in.
I’m in a mid-size Western state. My court sits in the state capital and largest city, although it’s not the largest district in the state population-wise (it’s co-terminus with the city boundary, so misses the big suburbs). Still, we’re the busiest docket due to being in the state capital. District courts in my state are the main trial courts, with county courts below and court of appeals above. District courts have jurisdiction over all felonies and all civil matters above $15,000, plus probate and domestic.
My judge is currently on a criminal rotation. We generally have 250-300 cases assigned to our courtroom at any time, all at various points in the criminal process. My judge handles all the pre-conviction stuff, while I’m assigned all the post-conviction stuff. This means I’m drafting lots of orders in response to inmate’s motions for reconsideration, motions for new trial, etc. I also handle county court appeals, mostly from misdemeanor trials. I’m usually in the office from about 8:15ish until 4:30ish, unless a trial or hearing goes long. My judge doesn’t care much about my hours as long as I’m getting my work done.
My weeks usually look like this:
Monday: Docket day. Everyone with a court date shows up at 8:30 AM, along with public defenders (or, rarely, private counsel) and deputy district attorneys. Cases usually get called according to which PD/defendant is ready to go. Defendants in custody get called when the sheriff’s deputies get them moved over from jail. Mornings are for just about anything that doesn’t need a court reporter: preliminary hearings, arraignments, status conferences, disposition hearings, sentencing hearings, etc. The judge is dealing with cases rapid-fire from the bench, while the judicial assistant and I scramble to get dispositions recorded in the computer. Needless to say, it’s chaotic. We commonly get through 70-90 cases in four hours, but it’s generally not as bad as that might seem; lots of cases get continued for various reasons, and there are always several FTA’s. After a quick lunch, motions hearings start at 1:30 PM. These are much less stressful, and we usually only have one or two per afternoon.
Tuesday (with trial scheduled): Law clerks bailiff all trials in my district. If a trial is scheduled, I head down to the jury commissioner’s office around 9:00 AM to get the jury pool list, then to the jury assembly room to collect them. I then spend a half-hour or so wrangling them up to the courtroom (bathroom breaks FTW!). Once the jury pool is seated, I randomly call names to come up to the jury box. The judge then starts voir dire, and as the PD/DA strikes potential jurors I keep calling replacements until we get a full jury. After that, I’m pretty much a spectator, unless the judge needs me to collect exhibits or jury questions, etc. I also escort the jury to and from the jury room during breaks.
Wednesday – Thursday (with trial scheduled): Pretty much the same as Tuesday, minus voir dire. Once the jury retires to deliberate, I basically just hang around waiting for them to notify me that they’ve reached a verdict.
Tuesday – Thursday (no trial): I like these days; plenty of time to catch up on reading motions, drafting orders, and other miscellaneous tasks that get pushed aside when we’re in trial. Occasionally a hearing will pop up, but nothing major.
Friday: Docket day (unless a trial is scheduled). Pretty much the same as Monday, except Fridays tend to be lower volume.
We generally have two-four trials per month in my courtroom, but it can be really variable; I’ve had months where we don’t have any trials, and months where they get double-booked. It all depends on whether the defendant pleads out, and that depends on the charges/the DA’s willingness to cut a deal/the defendant’s stubbornness.
Worst part of the job: dealing with pro se defendants; sitting through testimony in sex assault on a child cases (really tragic, heartbreaking stuff).
Best part of the job: everything else!
Overall, I love my job; great hours, interesting and substantive work, and mostly low-stress. Plus, I get to see lots of advocacy, both good and bad. The exit options and prestige might not be as good as federal district court, but clerks in my district generally don’t have trouble finding post-clerking jobs, especially with the state AG’s office and local midlaw firms. Not bad at all for a first job out of law school!