Why clerk?

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XxSpyKEx
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Why clerk?

Postby XxSpyKEx » Tue Jun 09, 2009 2:23 am

OK, I already know this is stupid question, but why do people want to do judicial clerkships once out of law school? They pay pretty poorly, and it seems like your basically someone's bitch for 2-3 years. Why would anyone want to do this (besides future profs). I see that some firms give credit for federal clerkships as if you worked at the company, how is this more beneficial to the company then just having the person work there for 2 or 3 years?

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Z'Barron
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Re: Why clerk?

Postby Z'Barron » Tue Jun 09, 2009 2:40 am

You get research and writing experience and you see the inner-workings of the court system. You get to read inter-office memos, etc. You also build close relationships with, not only the judge you clerk for, but other judges and attorneys, as well. Do you not see how all of that could be beneficial to a firm? The firm gets a judge/court to do some of its training. Anything that saves the firm training expenses will get passed on to the associate in the form of bonuses, hence law review bonuses (writing experience), moot court bonuses, (court experience, writing experience, arguments) and clerkship bonuses (especially federal ones). Moot court bonuses are rare and small; they aren't likely to exist in this economy.

From this link:

http://www.infirmation.com/articles/one ... le_id=3716

Every year we receive numerous phone calls from practicing attorneys as well as law students inquiring whether or not they should pursue a clerkship with a judge in order to make themselves more marketable. At the outset it is important to note that the value of a clerkship should not necessarily be something that you view as a marketing tool. Beyond making you marketable, a clerkship has far greater significance because the skills and level of insight you will acquire during your clerkship will be something that should help you throughout your career regardless of what practice area you ultimately end up in.

In evaluating whether or not a clerkship will make you marketable, it is important to understand the differences between state and federal clerkships. The distinction between federal and state clerkships is examined below.

A. Federal Clerkships

Typically, the most prestigious clerkships have been those with federal judges. At top national law schools, students compete very aggressively for federal clerkships more so than they do for state judicial clerkships. Given the prestige of a federal clerkship, it can often make you marketable far beyond the geographic area where you are clerking.

At the Federal level, the order of prestige of clerkships is typically considered: (1) the Supreme Court, (2) circuit (appellate) clerkships, (3) federal district court (trial court) clerkships, (4) clerkships with United States magistrates (who do a lot of the "grunt work" for federal district court judges). There are also several specialized courts (such as Federal Tax Court) that are of approximately the same prestige level as federal district court clerkships. For obvious reasons, clerking for the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court is generally considered the most prestigious clerkship there is. Similarly, a clerkship with a federal district judge in the Eastern District of New York is more prestigious than a clerkship with a federal district judge in Bay City, Michigan, for example, because there are far more people competing for clerkships in larger metro areas. Attorneys who clerk for the most prestigious judges are typically those whose "marketability" is likely to be increased as a result.

Most attorneys applying for federal clerkships apply to work either for federal district judges (district court clerkships) or for federal appellate judges. District court clerkships involve actual issues being litigated at the trial court level and typically have more in-court action. In a district court clerkship you may see many of the same lawyers in court day in and day out. In a circuit court clerkship, you are likely to see the attorneys involved only when they present their appellate arguments in court. Appellate clerkships involve mainly research and writing about issues the trial court has already ruled upon and reviewing the District Court's errors. Appellate clerkships typically involve more arcane and novel issues of law than are typically litigated at the trial level. In an appellate clerkship you are less likely to get to know the lawyers involved in the underlying litigation.

B. State Court Clerkships

There are also different distinctions in the state court system; ordinarily, you will also have a Supreme Court, appellate courts and trial courts. The same prestige distinctions are also present at the state level, with a state Supreme Court clerkship being the most prestigious. Just as certain federal district courts in various geographical locations are considered prestigious places to clerk in, so too are the state courts in different states. In general, if you are clerking for an appellate court in a highly populated state, this will be more prestigious than if you are doing the same thing in a smaller state.

The problem with a state court clerkship is typically something that is also an advantage. While a state court clerkship will not necessarily increase your chances of being marketable anywhere throughout the United States, it can do you a tremendous amount of good in the area where you are clerking. Clerking for a state court will make you a candidate with important local contacts. The fact of the matter is that most litigation (even at the most prestigious law firms) is conducted in state and not federal courts. Accordingly, a state court clerkship will provide you with a better understanding of state law than you would ever get as a federal clerk. If you are planning on working in the area where you are clerking, the state court clerkship should be enormously valuable.

C. Final Thoughts About Clerking

You need to remember that accepting a clerkship is much like the decision of where you decided to go to law school. There are major national law schools that vary in prestige and there are smaller local law schools that vary in prestige. For example, attending a law school like Yale is going to give you a serious advantage when you are applying to law firm positions throughout the United States. A law school like Yale might be compared to clerking on the Supreme Court. Conversely, a smaller more local law school like the University of Toledo is not going to give you as much an advantage throughout the United States. This school will, however, probably give you good options in Toledo, Ohio.

Accordingly, before you accept a clerkship, you need to have a good understanding of whether or not you want to work in the area where you will be clerking. The clerkship is most likely going to make you marketable if you are seeking to work in the state where you are clerking. You should also do some research into where various judges' former clerks ended up working. By learning this you can also get a decent idea of what your marketability might be following the clerkship.

The value of your clerkship should not necessarily be viewed as a tool to make you marketable. Clerking is something that gives you tools and memories that most clerks carry with them throughout their careers. When you sit on the judge's side of the bench, you get the feeling that you are really part of the legal process and have the idea of how decisions are made and the implications these decisions have on peoples' lives. Most clerks describe the year they spent clerking as the most relaxing, intellectually challenging and interesting year of their lives. And this is really the essence of a clerkship. It allows you to see the inner workings of the legal system, work closely with a judge and will provide you with a level of illumination about the legal system itself that you will carry with you throughout your legal career.

Our belief is that you should not clerk simply because you think it is something that will get you a better position. A clerkship is something that you should do because it will add depth and meaning to your future legal career. We do not believe that a state court clerkship (especially with an appellate judge) can possibly hurt your marketability. Indeed, the skills and understanding you pick up during your clerkship will be something you can carry with you throughout your career.
Last edited by Z'Barron on Tue Jun 09, 2009 2:54 am, edited 1 time in total.

solidsnake
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Re: Why clerk?

Postby solidsnake » Tue Jun 09, 2009 2:47 am

I've heard it likened to a residency in med school. I imagine that if one wants to spend a career in litigation, then spending a year or so behind the bench reading briefs and MSJs and observing how your judge reacts to various arguments (what I understand to be part of the job description) would probably be a pretty invaluable experience.

ToTransferOrNot
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Re: Why clerk?

Postby ToTransferOrNot » Tue Jun 09, 2009 9:15 am

Even my few weeks of interning for my State's Supreme Court has given me an entirely different perspective on how the law really works. It gives you insight in to what "works" as far as persuasive writing goes, it is an incredibly challenging intellectual experience, it is paying huge dividends in developing connections, I have had several hiring partners comment on how impressive a position it is, and so on.

This is two weeks in to an internship.

I can only imagine how these benefits would play out as a clerk. The two weeks that I have spent here make me even more certain of my decision to transfer so that I can have greater clerking opportunities. I would really encourage everyone to do a judicial internship at some point during law school- obviously, if you don't enjoy that work, clerking may not be something you want to do. Just be careful about interning with a judge you would want to clerk with, though. I just found out today that my Justice doesn't accept clerkship applications from old interns; apparently, that is not uncommon.

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Rsrcht
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Re: Why clerk?

Postby Rsrcht » Tue Jun 09, 2009 9:19 am

In this economy, it is job security. In a few years, hopefully the economy will recover enough to put a former clerk in a relatively decent position to place a lawfirm job at a higher pay level.

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MrOrange
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Re: Why clerk?

Postby MrOrange » Tue Jun 09, 2009 9:34 am

Wow...

First off, Barron...nice.

Secondly, clerkships generally don't last more than two years, and one-year stints are most prevalent. Many (if not most) major firms give significant bonuses to entering associates who've completed a "prestigious" clerkship (i.e. with a Fed. Dist. Court and all points north, as well as State Supreme Courts...depending on the state). The experience you gain as a clerk, not to mention the contacts/relationships/perspectives you develop, is practically incomparable to the experience you get whilst doubling as a document jockey for senior associates. Furthermore, if you have any serious interest in litigation (and we're not talking about pro bono or SmallLaw stuff), clerking is practically essential. Want to be a federal prosecutor some day? You'd better clerk. Want to get into BigLaw litigation? Well, clerking is pretty key. Junior, BigLaw litigation associates don't get into courtrooms for the most part. They do the grunt work for the higher-ups who actually manage cases.

And lastly...don't worry about the freakin' pay. For one thing, the right clerkship will "pay for itself" in two ways: the work experience, and the bonus/advanced standing bump you'll receive once you shift into firm employment. And for another, I think you should look into whether or not deferring your loans while clerking might be possible (it might be).

/mini rant.

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lawfool
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Re: Why clerk?

Postby lawfool » Tue Jun 09, 2009 10:11 am

Z'Barron wrote:Anything that saves the firm training expenses will get passed on to the associate in the form of bonuses, hence law review bonuses (writing experience), moot court bonuses, (court experience, writing experience, arguments) and clerkship bonuses (especially federal ones).


First off, excellent post.

Second: do you have any information on law review bonuses? I haven't heard about them until this post and googling it returns just this thread.

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cantaboot
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Re: Why clerk?

Postby cantaboot » Tue Jun 09, 2009 10:14 am

I've been interning for a week and my job has been mostly writing and researching... memos. not getting coffee.

in a side note, one of the law clerks said he's no idea as to why a lot of schools do not offer funding for fed jud internships.

another thing: I have found it incredibly hard to explain to people not in this profession how prestigious some of these clerkships are. The fact that these are only 1-2 year gigs, do not pay much, and carry the title 'clerk' make them believe that law clerks are people who cannot find full-time attorney positions at law firms.

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Rsrcht
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Re: Why clerk?

Postby Rsrcht » Tue Jun 09, 2009 11:37 am

cantaboot wrote:I've been interning for a week and my job has been mostly writing and researching... memos. not getting coffee.

in a side note, one of the law clerks said he's no idea as to why a lot of schools do not offer funding for fed jud internships.

another thing: I have found it incredibly hard to explain to people not in this profession how prestigious some of these clerkships are. The fact that these are only 1-2 year gigs, do not pay much, and carry the title 'clerk' make them believe that law clerks are people who cannot find full-time attorney positions at law firms.


+1
The layperson probably thinks a clerk is nothing more than an office secretary.

ToTransferOrNot
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Re: Why clerk?

Postby ToTransferOrNot » Tue Jun 09, 2009 11:45 am

I've had the same experience trying to explain my interest in clerking- even to misinformed law students! They all look at me strangely when I say that getting a good clerkship or two (F. Dist-> CoA, or CoA->SCOTUS, or, what one of my school's alma matters did, F. Dist->CoA->SCOTUS) will set me up for a much more lucrative, successful career than jumping right in to Biglaw would.

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cantaboot
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Re: Why clerk?

Postby cantaboot » Tue Jun 09, 2009 11:47 am

I was talking to my mom the other day, and she was like, so these clerks could not find jobs and have to settle for lowish-paying temporary gigs? I told her only the top people become clerks at fed courts. she was still puzzled: since they want to be attorneys anyway, why even bother??

KentuckyFried
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Re: Why clerk?

Postby KentuckyFried » Tue Jun 09, 2009 11:54 am

+1 on law review bonuses?

ToTransferOrNot
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Re: Why clerk?

Postby ToTransferOrNot » Tue Jun 09, 2009 11:59 am

KentuckyFried wrote:+1 on law review bonuses?


I agree; I've never heard of them before, to be entirely honest.

Edit: I always figured the "bonus" was "ok, he was on Law Review, we'll actually consider hiring him."

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cantaboot
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Re: Why clerk?

Postby cantaboot » Tue Jun 09, 2009 1:04 pm

it'd be nice, but slightly weird, to offer bonuses for former law review members.

law review: more cite-checking than anything else.

but I heard that small/ boutique firms do vary their pay according to the credentials of new attorneys.

typodragon
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Re: Why clerk?

Postby typodragon » Tue Jun 09, 2009 2:30 pm

anyone who can't get a job through OCI should definitely consider clerking, even at the local trial level. graduating without a job is depressing, and it'll give you time to pass the bar and have something to look forward to, plus your judge will probably go to bat for you in finding later employment.

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cantaboot
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Re: Why clerk?

Postby cantaboot » Tue Jun 09, 2009 4:01 pm

but aren't state clerkships also sort of competitive?????

typodragon
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Re: Why clerk?

Postby typodragon » Tue Jun 09, 2009 6:20 pm

cantaboot wrote:but aren't state clerkships also sort of competitive?????


competitive relative to what? it's not like t14 students are lining up to clerk on state trial and intermediate appellate courts.

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cantaboot
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Re: Why clerk?

Postby cantaboot » Tue Jun 09, 2009 6:22 pm

but I would think a lot of state courts only take top 30% at T1 schools, right?

typodragon
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Re: Why clerk?

Postby typodragon » Tue Jun 09, 2009 6:36 pm

cantaboot wrote:but I would think a lot of state courts only take top 30% at T1 schools, right?


Are you in manhattan or san fran or something? I'm sure your school's career office could give you a 100x better picture on how your school places in the local clerkship market, but my sense is that outside of a few highly desirable places the state trial courts hire mostly from the crappy local schools. In my home city, a respectable secondary market surrounded by first tier schools, that meant a huge reliance on clerks from the nearby 4th tier school with the occasional clerk from the nearby 1st tier schools. Every friend I have from the local 4th tier has gotten a local trial-level or similar clerkship. I think there's a few third tier schools that go out of their way to try to get every student a clerkship, though I don't know if any of them have gotten past 50 percent. How that translates nationally, I couldn't say, but I suspect that any first tier student who wants to clerk, doesn't have straight Cs, and has a good personality can do it.

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cantaboot
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Re: Why clerk?

Postby cantaboot » Tue Jun 09, 2009 6:44 pm

I am in massachusetts.
is it more competitive ???
I guess It also depends on the court, e.g. family/ probate court, .... will take people with lesser credentials.

another interesting thing: though I have applied for internships at state courts (by sending it to a middle-person, as advised) I have not really heard from them. All calls were from fed/ COA courts. I wonder if state courts take summer interns at all.
Last edited by cantaboot on Tue Jun 09, 2009 6:48 pm, edited 1 time in total.

snotrocket
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Re: Why clerk?

Postby snotrocket » Tue Jun 09, 2009 6:46 pm

cantaboot wrote:I was talking to my mom the other day, and she was like, so these clerks could not find jobs and have to settle for lowish-paying temporary gigs? I told her only the top people become clerks at fed courts. she was still puzzled: since they want to be attorneys anyway, why even bother??

Tell her it's like how doctors work as interns and residents for crap pay in order to learn from top people in their field, or how grad students are indentured servants for top researchers for a decade before they can get their own teaching jobs. Obviously in any competitive field an apprenticeship with someone established helps to build your experience and skill from nothing to the point where you can get a decent position on your own, plus you benefit from the reputation and connections of your mentor.

Snooker
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Re: Why clerk?

Postby Snooker » Thu Jun 11, 2009 8:54 pm

Maybe instead of saying "I am a clerk", you could say "I hold a clerkship". It's twice as long, and probably twice as impressive.

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nmoor1501
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Re: Why clerk?

Postby nmoor1501 » Thu Jun 11, 2009 9:18 pm

I am wondering something... My boyfriend has a long time family friend who he still talks to via email every once and a while who is a superior court judge (justice?) in San Luis Obispo. Should I use this networking option and try to clerk for him (or even someone else in SLO)? I want to work for a judge my first summer. Does networking help in this position?

snotrocket
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Re: Why clerk?

Postby snotrocket » Thu Jun 11, 2009 11:33 pm

nmoor1501 wrote:I am wondering something... My boyfriend has a long time family friend who he still talks to via email every once and a while who is a superior court judge (justice?) in San Luis Obispo. Should I use this networking option and try to clerk for him (or even someone else in SLO)? I want to work for a judge my first summer. Does networking help in this position?

You don't usually need connections to get judicial internships (summer spots, where you really work for the judge's clerk, in most cases, not the judge). They don't pay, or they pay very little, and lots of people turn to them as fallbacks when more desirable options don't pan out (i.e. paying firm jobs). They're not a huge value in terms of experience, but they're a whole lot better than non-legal work. And you might get lucky and get a semi-decent LOR out of it. You might also get some useful experience watching litigation happen from the other side of the bench, and maybe some writing skills, depending on how well you perform.

Judicial clerkships are full-time, post-JD, paid positions. These last one or two years mostly, and range from impossible to get (SCOTUS), to nearly impossible (Federal Court of Appeals), to moderately hard (Federal District Court), to relatively accessible with hard work or connections (state Supreme Court). In those jobs you will get valuable and generally well-regarded experience, and at least with federal clerkships a tangible boost for your resume. They also count as a year or two of litigation experience, and often yield some solid connections with judges and fellow clerks, that may lead to more good opportunities.

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steve_nash
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Re: Why clerk?

Postby steve_nash » Fri Jun 12, 2009 9:08 am

Alex Kozinski's opinions single-handedly made me want to clerk. When I decided I knew I wanted to clerk, I had no clue what it entailed. And while I know I have realistically no chance at clerking for Kozinski, the thought that I could work with someone that brilliant keeps me interested in clerking. Of course, now that I know more about clerking, I think I would genuinely enjoy the experience, Kozinski or not.




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