Hypo: Why clerk if interested in criminal law?

Seek and share information about clerkship applications, clerkship hiring timelines, and post-clerkship employment opportunities.
Forum rules
Anonymous Posting

Anonymous posting is only appropriate when you are sharing sensitive information about clerkship applications and clerkship hiring. You may anonymously respond on topic to these threads. Unacceptable uses include: harassing another user, joking around, testing the feature, or other things that are more appropriate in the lounge.

Failure to follow these rules will get you outed, warned, or banned."
kyle1978

New
Posts: 38
Joined: Tue Oct 31, 2017 12:57 pm

Hypo: Why clerk if interested in criminal law?

Postby kyle1978 » Fri Dec 08, 2017 10:42 am

I was asked by a mentee why s/he should pursue federal clerkships if they are interested in criminal law (ultimately, AUSA). I couldn't provide a specific response because I never clerked, but I figured I'd ask around.

S/he says theyre having trouble getting offers from judges (no problem getting interviews) because of their demonstrated interest in public interest and criminal law. In a nutshell, s/he says that the judges they interview with tell them that law clerks will only work on civil cases and never touch the criminal docket. The interview ends up going down hill thereafter. S/he doesn't know how to respond to the judges on "why clerk? why clerk for me?" in light of the fact that they will only handle civil docket and s/he seeks criminal experience.

Any idea?

User avatar
encore1101

Silver
Posts: 813
Joined: Tue Oct 22, 2013 10:13 am

Re: Hypo: Why clerk if interested in criminal law?

Postby encore1101 » Fri Dec 08, 2017 10:52 am

That's a good question; what's your mentee's personal reason why s/he wants to clerk if s/he was otherwise interested in criminal law?

Anonymous User
Posts: 327357
Joined: Tue Aug 11, 2009 9:32 am

Re: Hypo: Why clerk if interested in criminal law?

Postby Anonymous User » Fri Dec 08, 2017 10:55 am

They should apply to criminal-heavy dockets like border districts - even if the judge does the bulk of the criminal motions work, being involved with trials means they should get some criminal experience (there were more criminal than civil trials when I clerked in a border district). And in those districts clerks do get
criminal work sometimes (I did a couple of criminal motions and then working on the jury instructions is pretty informative).

Also they should/could talk about the value of understanding how litigation works more generally, and how much of that is transferable from civil to criminal.

It’s sort of an odd question/experience because USAOs universally like to hire clerks. So it might make sense to talk about wanting to be an AUSA and that the offices value that experience, even if the judge doesn’t agree. And another possible route would be to apply to judges who used to be AUSAs/USAs.

It may also be that if s/he doesn’t have a good answer for that question and the interviews go downhill from there, the judge doesn’t hire them because they don’t think they interviewed well, rather than actually because they’re interested in criminal law.

User avatar
mjb447

Silver
Posts: 1280
Joined: Fri Jul 26, 2013 4:36 am

Re: Hypo: Why clerk if interested in criminal law?

Postby mjb447 » Fri Dec 08, 2017 10:56 am

Those clerkships may not have been the right fit, but there are lots of judges who have clerks assist with criminal matters. Just depends.

kyle1978

New
Posts: 38
Joined: Tue Oct 31, 2017 12:57 pm

Re: Hypo: Why clerk if interested in criminal law?

Postby kyle1978 » Fri Dec 08, 2017 10:57 am

S/he says that they want to clerk because (1) no job currently lined up, (2) networking abilities, (3) improve research and writing skills, (4) most of the judges s/he interviews with are in his/her preferred district/location, (5) "prestige" (they didn't use this word) --> ability to be a competitive candidate for "good" jobs afterwards?

I agreed that mentioning the improve research/writing skills, the location, and mentorship would be a fine answer - but it still doesn't really seem that thoughtful/make one stand out

Anonymous User
Posts: 327357
Joined: Tue Aug 11, 2009 9:32 am

Re: Hypo: Why clerk if interested in criminal law?

Postby Anonymous User » Fri Dec 08, 2017 11:22 am

In my clerkship, I would say that 80% of what I do is civil. That said, I do work on motions to suppress, motions to withdraw guilty pleas, etc., so I do get exposure to some of what you'd be doing as an AUSA. Our judge also asks us to review plea agreements and sentencing reports, so you could get criminal experience through that.

User avatar
ggocat

Gold
Posts: 1824
Joined: Sat Dec 13, 2008 1:51 pm

Re: Hypo: Why clerk if interested in criminal law?

Postby ggocat » Fri Dec 08, 2017 1:33 pm

His/her #3 reason is OK for interviews. Also, I agree he/she should apply to other federal judges and perhaps state courts. In Texas, for example, state appellate clerks do about 50-50 criminal/civil, and they have a bifurcated high court system where one does 100% criminal work.

User avatar
emkay625

Gold
Posts: 1987
Joined: Sat Dec 05, 2009 11:31 pm

Re: Hypo: Why clerk if interested in criminal law?

Postby emkay625 » Fri Dec 08, 2017 1:43 pm

This varies widely by court. Courts in border districts (SDTX, WDTX, AZ, SDCA) have heavier criminal dockets and so clerks there are more likely to do criminal work. Where is your mentee looking?

Anonymous User
Posts: 327357
Joined: Tue Aug 11, 2009 9:32 am

Re: Hypo: Why clerk if interested in criminal law?

Postby Anonymous User » Fri Dec 08, 2017 2:12 pm

There are lots of federal judges who were formally AUSAs. There are lots of federal judges who were federal clerks before they were AUSAs. Your friend would be well-advised to target these judges: this question is less likely to come up (and less likely to come up in a hostile manner) with these judges and, more importantly, these judges are likely going to be helpful to your friend's career in a wide range of ways: having a judge mentor who succeeded in your specific career path is enormously valuable.

In any event, the primary reason to clerk isn't generally to develop substantive knowledge in the field in which you will practice law. The reason to clerk is to gain a better understanding of what constitutes good and effective advocacy, to gain a better understanding how the various parts of litigation fit together, and to generally develop as a legal writer and thinker. These are all useful skills whether you practice in civil or criminal law.

Incidentally, even if most dct judges won't assign their clerks to most criminal motions, they will assign clerks to criminal trials or ask for clerk input on sentencing hearings -- so many clerks will get some direct exposure to criminal law through their clerkship even when clerking for judges who "handle all criminal matters." If it were me, though, I probably wouldn't highlight the trial side of things, because crim trials are sufficiently rare in most jx that it's unlikely that any given clerk will end up working on a criminal trial even once in their clerkship.

Anonymous User
Posts: 327357
Joined: Tue Aug 11, 2009 9:32 am

Re: Hypo: Why clerk if interested in criminal law?

Postby Anonymous User » Fri Dec 08, 2017 2:21 pm

Having a judge who was an AUSA or prosecutor doesn't necessarily mean you will get more criminal experience. Sometimes (as in the case of my judge), it means that the judge feels like they can/should do all the criminal work on his/her own and leave the civil stuff to the clerks.

If you want to do criminal work and don't have any more granular preferences, being in a border district can help. The problem is that working on a million illegal reentry cases is not really a great skills-building experience, unless your end goal is to be an AUSA in a border district and prosecuting a lot of illegal reentry cases. Depending on your mentee's qualifications, being somewhere like SDNY or EDVA and working on high-profile, complicated criminal matters sounds like it is going to be a much more valuable experience.

That said, many judges have their clerks work on criminal motions - my judge didn't (unless he liked your work and you had affirmatively expressed interest in it), but many other judges in my court had their clerks work on the criminal side. Even if you don't work on the criminal docket per se, you will still likely have some exposure to criminal trials (which, in my experience clerking, were much more common than civil trials). You may also work on 2254/2255 petitions and other criminal-adjacent work. And spending a year behind the scenes honing your research and writing skills and building a connection with someone on the federal bench can only help you when it's time to apply for AUSA jobs.

User avatar
Lincoln

Silver
Posts: 1208
Joined: Tue Nov 03, 2009 11:27 pm

Re: Hypo: Why clerk if interested in criminal law?

Postby Lincoln » Fri Dec 08, 2017 2:27 pm

My judge didn't have a courtroom deputy (and instead had an extra clerk), meaning the clerks handled the criminal docket as well. It was probably about 50% of my work. Applying to judges who do not have a deputy -- although there aren't that many of them -- might be a good idea.

lolwat

Silver
Posts: 1216
Joined: Tue Nov 16, 2010 2:30 pm

Re: Hypo: Why clerk if interested in criminal law?

Postby lolwat » Fri Dec 08, 2017 2:37 pm

S/he says that they want to clerk because (1) no job currently lined up, (2) networking abilities, (3) improve research and writing skills, (4) most of the judges s/he interviews with are in his/her preferred district/location, (5) "prestige" (they didn't use this word) --> ability to be a competitive candidate for "good" jobs afterwards?


These are all OK reasons but she needs to have more than this to respond to the question of why she wants to clerk.

Also they should/could talk about the value of understanding how litigation works more generally, and how much of that is transferable from civil to criminal.


Besides all the good advice about districts where she's most likely to work on criminal matters, the above is very important advice that I think got kind of lost. Your mentee needs to not be so damn laser-focused on criminal work during the clerkship. One year isn't long enough to learn everything anyway, it's more about building the general litigation skills that you'll use later in your career, and I imagine much of those general skills are easily transferable between civil and criminal. She can always pick up criminal procedure and other shit like that later.

Anonymous User
Posts: 327357
Joined: Tue Aug 11, 2009 9:32 am

Re: Hypo: Why clerk if interested in criminal law?

Postby Anonymous User » Fri Dec 08, 2017 3:03 pm

kyle1978 wrote:I was asked by a mentee why s/he should pursue federal clerkships if they are interested in criminal law (ultimately, AUSA). I couldn't provide a specific response because I never clerked, but I figured I'd ask around.

S/he says theyre having trouble getting offers from judges (no problem getting interviews) because of their demonstrated interest in public interest and criminal law. In a nutshell, s/he says that the judges they interview with tell them that law clerks will only work on civil cases and never touch the criminal docket. The interview ends up going down hill thereafter. S/he doesn't know how to respond to the judges on "why clerk? why clerk for me?" in light of the fact that they will only handle civil docket and s/he seeks criminal experience.

Any idea?


Because becoming an AUSA without a federal clerkship is REALLY hard.

The short answer is: (1) I want to be an AUSA and I'll have a chance to observe AUSAs in action; (2) I want to improve my writing ability, which is important as an AUSA; (3) I want to learn the nuts and bolts of federal practice under an experienced jurist like your honor.

Easy.

Anonymous User
Posts: 327357
Joined: Tue Aug 11, 2009 9:32 am

Re: Hypo: Why clerk if interested in criminal law?

Postby Anonymous User » Fri Dec 08, 2017 3:27 pm

Anonymous User wrote:The problem is that working on a million illegal reentry cases is not really a great skills-building experience, unless your end goal is to be an AUSA in a border district and prosecuting a lot of illegal reentry cases. Depending on your mentee's qualifications, being somewhere like SDNY or EDVA and working on high-profile, complicated criminal matters sounds like it is going to be a much more valuable experience.

The above is true, but as a former border clerk and AUSA, most illegal reentry cases don’t go to trial or pose any sentencing issues that a clerk would be involved in. Drug cases will go to trial more frequently, I’d say, or maybe alien smuggling, as well as the standard non-border specific stuff. No, none of these are the high-profile complicated SDNY/EDVA stuff, but frankly, if you don’t have trial experience even simple cases teach you a lot (observing as well as trying). Also the really complicated cases have long lives and you may not be in a position to do much work on them in one year.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure clerking in SDNY/EDVA is the best experience around, but it doesn’t mean other clerkships aren’t also valuable.

FascinatedWanderer

Bronze
Posts: 294
Joined: Sat Jun 13, 2015 10:12 pm

Re: Hypo: Why clerk if interested in criminal law?

Postby FascinatedWanderer » Fri Dec 08, 2017 4:02 pm

kyle1978 wrote:S/he says that they want to clerk because (1) no job currently lined up, (2) networking abilities, (3) improve research and writing skills, (4) most of the judges s/he interviews with are in his/her preferred district/location, (5) "prestige" (they didn't use this word) --> ability to be a competitive candidate for "good" jobs afterwards?

I agreed that mentioning the improve research/writing skills, the location, and mentorship would be a fine answer - but it still doesn't really seem that thoughtful/make one stand out


We would instantly ding someone for saying they want to clerk because they have no job currently lined up, so I want to stress not to bring that up in interviews.

lolwat

Silver
Posts: 1216
Joined: Tue Nov 16, 2010 2:30 pm

Re: Hypo: Why clerk if interested in criminal law?

Postby lolwat » Fri Dec 08, 2017 4:51 pm

FascinatedWanderer wrote:
kyle1978 wrote:S/he says that they want to clerk because (1) no job currently lined up, (2) networking abilities, (3) improve research and writing skills, (4) most of the judges s/he interviews with are in his/her preferred district/location, (5) "prestige" (they didn't use this word) --> ability to be a competitive candidate for "good" jobs afterwards?

I agreed that mentioning the improve research/writing skills, the location, and mentorship would be a fine answer - but it still doesn't really seem that thoughtful/make one stand out


We would instantly ding someone for saying they want to clerk because they have no job currently lined up, so I want to stress not to bring that up in interviews.


I agree, although I suspect the OP was telling us this was what the mentee was telling the OP, rather than the answer the mentee was giving the judges. If it's the latter, that answer definitely needs to change.



Return to “Judicial Clerkships?

Who is online

The online users are hidden on this forum.