Career Clerking

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admisionquestion
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Career Clerking

Postby admisionquestion » Wed Oct 23, 2013 10:37 pm

Hey,

So I like clerking. I like clerking every day. I like clerking for some pay. I don't mind making 60K.

Is there a "path" to being a career clerk? Does anyone do this.

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patrickd139
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Re: Career Clerking

Postby patrickd139 » Wed Oct 23, 2013 11:04 pm

It really only requires that you style your opinions after Dr. Seuss. Looks like you're well on your way.

Seriously, it's a viable career. There are new rules imposed that govern limits on clerkship length, and I'm not sure how/if they affect the path to career clerkships. I'll let someone else talk specifics, but it's possible.

Another option you might consider is your state Supreme Court. Many states' justices employ staff attorneys instead of term clerks, but who perform the same exact tasks.

Anonymous User
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Re: Career Clerking

Postby Anonymous User » Wed Oct 23, 2013 11:13 pm

In one of my clerkship interviews, one of the current clerks had been working at the court for about 6 years, and expected to stay there for the foreseeable future. It probably depends on the judge's preference, but I assume they like it, since they do not have to train "new" clerks.

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A. Nony Mouse
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Re: Career Clerking

Postby A. Nony Mouse » Wed Oct 23, 2013 11:19 pm

Yes, people definitely do this. However, the positions aren't always very easy to find, in part because federal judges are now limited in the number of career clerks they can hire. (I believe they can only have one career clerk, but I don't know if that varies by the size of the chambers; I think it applies to circuit as well as district court judges, but stand ready to be corrected. Some judges have more, because clerks in career positions at the time of the policy change were grandfathered in, but it limits the number of new positions available.) I'm pretty sure that career clerks are exempt for the 4-year limit on term positions (but that's why judges can only have one).

I don't know if any states have such limits; in the state where I clerked, many of the COA judges had career clerks, whereas few of the SSC justices did, but that was probably just random circumstance/judge preference rather than policy. In my state, staff attorneys didn't do quite the same job as clerks; they were in a pool, writing for all judges (and therefore connected permanently to none), and specialized in some of the more routine kinds of appeals (a few would do only workers comp, a few more only social security, as well as unemployment, domestic cases, and certain kinds of routine criminal stuff - that kind of thing). Although they'd find issues of first impression, their work was generally less complex/interesting that the clerks' work. But in all other respects, it's very very similar to regular clerking.

Every career clerk I've ever met had experience as a term clerk, though not necessarily (not usually, actually) for the judge they career clerk for. Usually they've clerked/are clerking for the court on which the hiring judge sits, when the hiring judge identifies a need for a career clerk. Most cases I know of involve a new judge needing to set up chambers, although an opening could obviously arise if a career clerk decides to leave. People have got the positions largely because the judges they previously clerked for went to bat for them with the new judge (and then they got along with the new judge in interviews, of course). One of my co-clerks started on a one-year term, I believe, with the prospect of it becoming permanent if it worked out, which it did.

So a good path seems to be clerking, getting along really well with/doing a great job for your judge, being available when a new judge who wants a career clerk joins that court, and your judge is willing to go to bat for you. A LOT of it, in my experience, is personal connections and getting people to want you to stick around (most judges will take a known quantity over the unknown every time, when hiring a career clerk). There may be other paths, of course; this is just what I've seen most often. I'd imagine some term clerks convert the job to a career position, but I don't know anyone off the top of my head who has done that.

(Federal career clerks can make decent money, since they're eligible for raises on the JSP scale. The state clerkships I know of paid one salary for all clerks, with limited if any potential for raises other than COL increases; however, judges would often arrange for career clerks to work from home or schedule-shift to make up for it. Almost every career clerk I have ever met was a woman raising small kids, very very occasionally a man raising small kids, and a couple of, um, socially-challenged men.)

theaccidentalclerk
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Re: Career Clerking

Postby theaccidentalclerk » Wed Oct 23, 2013 11:41 pm

Current rules for career clerks (in the federal court system) are one per judge (magistrate, bankruptcy, USDC, COA -- not sure about SCOTUS); career clerks who were in the system prior to 2007 are grandfathered in even if they switch judges; I *think* a judge can hire a grandfathered clerk plus a "new" career clerk, but I'm not 100% sure of that. My judge had one career clerk who would have been grandfathered in if s/he wasn't his only career clerk.

Getting a career clerkship is tough. You'll be JSP-14, which is low-to-mid 100s in most major markets. The job is fun, and the hours are usually pretty nice. It's hard to think of a better legal job except being a judge yourself or a law professor. So most career clerks don't leave, which means new judges are really the only dependable options. During my clerkship, a new non-AIII judge came in the district, and I think a good chunk of the term clerks (mostly AIII) at the time put their names in for his career spot.

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A. Nony Mouse
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Re: Career Clerking

Postby A. Nony Mouse » Wed Oct 23, 2013 11:47 pm

theaccidentalclerk wrote:I *think* a judge can hire a grandfathered clerk plus a "new" career clerk, but I'm not 100% sure of that.

I don't *think* this is true; my judge had 2 career clerks before the policy change, but when one left after the policy change he couldn't hire a second. But it may just be that there weren't any grandfathered folk around he wanted to hire. (But it doesn't really matter for the main point that there aren't lots of openings, of course.)

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FlanAl
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Re: Career Clerking

Postby FlanAl » Thu Oct 24, 2013 12:05 am

what about staff attorney positions? those are kind of like career clerking right?

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A. Nony Mouse
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Re: Career Clerking

Postby A. Nony Mouse » Thu Oct 24, 2013 12:12 am

FlanAl wrote:what about staff attorney positions? those are kind of like career clerking right?

I think it depends on the court. My experience in both state and federal court has been that staff attorneys specialize in high-volume (generally) low-complexity practice areas (as noted above). In federal district court, there were the equivalent of staff attorneys doing pro se and prisoner cases, for instance. In the state supreme court, they sort of triaged the petitions for cert and dispensed with really routine/hopeless ones before they even got to chambers; the more complex ones got sent to chambers. They're not generally physically associated with chambers the way that clerks are, but have separate offices. Hours-wise and otherwise, though, the work was very similar to what clerks did.

(I don't have any experience with federal COA staff attorneys, which may be very different. From what I've read here, they can vary a lot by circuit. I also think some circuits hire staff attorneys to term rather permanent positions.)

theaccidentalclerk
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Re: Career Clerking

Postby theaccidentalclerk » Thu Oct 24, 2013 12:13 am

I don't *think* this is true; my judge had 2 career clerks before the policy change, but when one left after the policy change he couldn't hire a second. But it may just be that there weren't any grandfathered folk around he wanted to hire. (But it doesn't really matter for the main point that there aren't lots of openings, of course.)


The only reason I say otherwise is that I recall a couple of postings for clerks for a new chief judge where the judge said that the clerk would be hired to up to four years or the duration of his/her term as chief if the new clerk was grandfathered. This wouldn't make total sense if the judges were limited to one career clerk regardless of grandfathering. Though maybe those judges didn't have career clerks prior to being elevated to chief, or maybe the rules are different with respect to chief judges.

Like you (and I) said, openings for career clerks are few and far between, at least at the federal level. Also, I forgot to add before, one downside to career clerkships is that they're over when the judge leaves the bench. Some judges stay on senior status for decades. Some don't. If yours is in the latter category, you might be stuck in the situation where he steps down when you're 40, and then good luck finding a job after that.

admisionquestion
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Re: Career Clerking

Postby admisionquestion » Thu Oct 24, 2013 12:14 am

Thanks this was helpful.

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A. Nony Mouse
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Re: Career Clerking

Postby A. Nony Mouse » Thu Oct 24, 2013 12:25 am

theaccidentalclerk wrote:Also, I forgot to add before, one downside to career clerkships is that they're over when the judge leaves the bench. Some judges stay on senior status for decades. Some don't. If yours is in the latter category, you might be stuck in the situation where he steps down when you're 40, and then good luck finding a job after that.

Definitely. I do know a former career clerk who ended up as a state COA judge after his federal judge died, but everyone has pointed him out as the exception that proves the rule (it was a small legal community, he clerked for a long-lived and influential judge, and got to know tons of people during that time).

theaccidentalclerk
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Re: Career Clerking

Postby theaccidentalclerk » Thu Oct 24, 2013 12:40 am

Out of curiosity, was it Richman? My judge gave his article on "how to be a federal law clerk" to his clerks when we started.

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A. Nony Mouse
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Re: Career Clerking

Postby A. Nony Mouse » Thu Oct 24, 2013 12:47 am

theaccidentalclerk wrote:Out of curiosity, was it Richman? My judge gave his article on "how to be a federal law clerk" to his clerks when we started.

It was! I guess looking at the dates of his various positions, he had a lot of private sector experience before going to be a career clerk, so not as much of an anomaly as I thought - more of anomaly to become a clerk after 20+ years of practice. (I missed how little of his career was clerking because people always describe him as "a career clerk who became a judge.")

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BearState
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Re: Career Clerking

Postby BearState » Thu Oct 24, 2013 2:33 am

A. Nony Mouse wrote:
theaccidentalclerk wrote:Out of curiosity, was it Richman? My judge gave his article on "how to be a federal law clerk" to his clerks when we started.

It was! I guess looking at the dates of his various positions, he had a lot of private sector experience before going to be a career clerk, so not as much of an anomaly as I thought - more of anomaly to become a clerk after 20+ years of practice. (I missed how little of his career was clerking because people always describe him as "a career clerk who became a judge.")


In my experience (familiarity with two federal district judge's chambers) significant work experience at a firm and a prior clerkship are prerequisites for career clerks.

Citizen Genet
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Re: Career Clerking

Postby Citizen Genet » Thu Oct 24, 2013 9:12 am

BearState wrote:
A. Nony Mouse wrote:
theaccidentalclerk wrote:Out of curiosity, was it Richman? My judge gave his article on "how to be a federal law clerk" to his clerks when we started.

It was! I guess looking at the dates of his various positions, he had a lot of private sector experience before going to be a career clerk, so not as much of an anomaly as I thought - more of anomaly to become a clerk after 20+ years of practice. (I missed how little of his career was clerking because people always describe him as "a career clerk who became a judge.")


In my experience (familiarity with two federal district judge's chambers) significant work experience at a firm and a prior clerkship are prerequisites for career clerks.


Come to think of it, every career I know (about a dozen) fit that model. Term clerk, Big Law, Career Clerk. There is one exception for someone who went term clerk, staff attorney, career clerk.

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A. Nony Mouse
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Re: Career Clerking

Postby A. Nony Mouse » Thu Oct 24, 2013 9:23 am

None of the career clerks I know (state/federal) had biglaw experience. But I'm sure it can vary according to district/judge.

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legalese_retard
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Re: Career Clerking

Postby legalese_retard » Thu Oct 24, 2013 11:29 am

You can also be a specialized law clerk. I've seen a couple of job postings for career pro se law clerk positions. Depending on the division, you might work for one judge or you might work for multiple judges.

Anonymous User
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Re: Career Clerking

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Nov 05, 2013 9:27 pm

I’m a career clerk for a state COA.  Each judge has two attorneys, understood to be a senior attorney and junior attorney.  Seniors are permanent and usually have 5+ years experience.  Junior attorneys are either term clerks or permanent clerks with less experience (I think all have less than 10 years experience as lawyers).  It depends on the judge whether they hire term clerks or a permanent junior attorney. 

Here are some of the paths of former and current career clerks at my court:

4 clerked (term) for this court for 1-2 years with no other experience and then were hired permanently.  All started as juniors; 2 have been promoted to seniors.

2 clerked for federal COAs (term) and were in biglaw 4-8 years. Both started as juniors; then promoted to seniors.

2 worked at a variety of mid and small firms for 10+ years.  Both seniors.

2 clerked (term) for other state COAs and went into mid/small firms for 1-5 years. Both are juniors.

1 clerked (term) for other state COA for a year.  Junior.

1 was offered a permanent position straight out of law school. Started as junior; promoted to senior.

1 clerked for this court, worked at a mid-sized firm, and came back. Junior.

I am unsure about several of the other senior attorneys.  I know they have varied experience, probably some combination of firms and/or clerking. 

 

All that said, for someone who is still early in their career or a law student, my advice would be to clerk at several different courts, preferably ones that you know hire permanent clerks.  If you don’t get a permanent clerkship right away, aim for biglaw or another respected firm.  Many judges value practical experience when selecting permanent staff. Others (most I think) just want good writers who can push paper.

Anonymous User
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Re: Career Clerking

Postby Anonymous User » Wed Nov 06, 2013 10:21 pm

At my court, all of the career clerks were hired as term clerks, stayed a couple years, then stayed a couple more, and eventually became career clerks. The career clerks stay a long, long time. One has been there for 15 years, another 10, another 7, and another I think 5. I know there are others, but I don't know how long they've been there. At federal courts, I'm fairly sure there are AO regulations that a judge can only have 1 career clerk, so often times there's no chance to get a career clerk position until someone leaves.

lolwat
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Re: Career Clerking

Postby lolwat » Thu Nov 07, 2013 3:33 pm

Also, I forgot to add before, one downside to career clerkships is that they're over when the judge leaves the bench. Some judges stay on senior status for decades. Some don't. If yours is in the latter category, you might be stuck in the situation where he steps down when you're 40, and then good luck finding a job after that.


I think exit options (or lack thereof) are quite important and not really emphasized much in this thread. Obviously you don't go into a "career clerkship" looking to leave, but the above is actually very likely and the little that I know about career clerkships, there aren't a ton of exit options (outside of clerking for another judge, or basically staying in the court systems doing clerk/staff attorney type of work).

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Re: Career Clerking

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Nov 07, 2013 8:31 pm

Regarding job security, at my state court it is uncommon for permanent staff to be forced out when a new judge arrives. Most judges seem to appreciate the continuity of relying on existing staff. I also understand that clerks in the federal system are generally absorbed by other chambers when a judge retires/dies, but not sure about permanent clerks.

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Re: Career Clerking

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Nov 07, 2013 10:08 pm

"I think exit options (or lack thereof) are quite important and not really emphasized much in this thread. Obviously you don't go into a "career clerkship" looking to leave, but the above is actually very likely and the little that I know about career clerkships, there aren't a ton of exit options (outside of clerking for another judge, or basically staying in the court systems doing clerk/staff attorney type of work)."

I don't think this is completely true. I know of career clerks being snapped up by firms, as some judges are when they retire from the bench, because they have a better view into what does and doesn't work in their former court than anyone else. I also have heard of career clerks getting elevated to become mag judges.

It's an undefined path, though, and a relatively small sample size to extrapolate from.

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Re: Career Clerking

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Nov 07, 2013 10:51 pm

I knew a federal career clerk who became a magistrate judge. I knew another who went to the USAO. I knew another who became a stay-at-home mom.

Fwiw.

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Re: Career Clerking

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Nov 07, 2013 11:39 pm

I, too, know of a federal career clerk who became a magistrate judge (it would be funny if we're all talking about the same person, though I doubt it), and a career clerk who went to the USAO (though she only clerked for 5 years - I know she's said she would have stayed in the job for the money, but she was concerned that staying much longer would make moving even harder).

Also, while I was clerking, a couple of career clerks jumped ship (their judge was retiring), and they ended up in very small-law jobs. Of course, it was kind of a flyover state, so there's a lot more small-law there than anything else. I know one had the equivalent of in-house work before career clerking; don't know about the other. But also FWIW, their reputation for diligence was not great in the courthouse, and it was a small legal community.

So I suspect it's an uncommon enough path that post-clerking career trajectories are pretty idiosyncratic.

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Re: Career Clerking

Postby Anonymous User » Fri Nov 08, 2013 12:59 am

Anonymous User wrote:I, too, know of a federal career clerk who became a magistrate judge (it would be funny if we're all talking about the same person, though I doubt it), and a career clerk who went to the USAO (though she only clerked for 5 years - I know she's said she would have stayed in the job for the money, but she was concerned that staying much longer would make moving even harder).

Weigle? Schieber?




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