Motivation for clerking/what can clerks offer judges?

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genetics4lyfe

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Motivation for clerking/what can clerks offer judges?

Postby genetics4lyfe » Thu Sep 20, 2018 10:48 am

Had a professor today ask me to do a brief write-up of my motivation for clerking, keeping in mind what students can offer judges that they clerk for. Two questions for which I'd love to have y'all's input:

1. What benefits do clerks provide judges? And what qualities do judges look for in seeking out clerks who can help them with their work (aside from writing skill, competence as evaluated by class performance, etc.).

2. I'm interested in non-litigation regulatory practice (e.g. serving in an advisory capacity to institutional clients). Aside from the obvious self-serving interests in clerking (improved writing, mentorship/connections, etc.), I want to clerk to better understand how jurisprudential decisionmaking takes place because it is often not the same as the best "legal argument" that comes out from lawyering. However, I'm not sure how pertinent this may be given I'm not sure I'm really interested in trial or appeals work. Are there other substantive benefits from clerking for those interested in administrative law that isn't trial based?

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Re: Motivation for clerking/what can clerks offer judges?

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Sep 20, 2018 11:26 am

genetics4lyfe wrote:1. What benefits do clerks provide judges? And what qualities do judges look for in seeking out clerks who can help them with their work (aside from writing skill, competence as evaluated by class performance, etc.).


I'll bite with the caveat that every judge's personality is different, their use of clerks varies widely, and that I'm speaking only for the federal judiciary as some state courts have concrete frameworks for the work clerks are required to perform.

Generally, the benefit of having a clerk for a judge is to have someone who can provide that judge with the "component parts" to make a decision regarding a specific motion, appeal, etc. Those component parts, as I mentioned above, take a variety of forms depending on how the judge has structured their chambers. Some judges use clerks for spot research purposes only because they draft their opinions entirely on their own while others use clerks to fully draft opinions on unpublished opinions for their review and others only allow clerks to draft bench memoranda and argue the cases in mock sessions to work through issues and develop questions for oral argument (in the appellate context of course). Some clerks essentially run their docket for their judge only bringing major issues to the judge's attention while other judges are hands-on their docket all the time and the clerk's role is more limited in that area. Depending on the judge's personality, a clerk can also serve as a sounding board (informal or formal) for approaches to opinion drafting, etc.

IMO, as an applicant whose application materials have passed an initial read through for whatever reason (contrary to this site's tunnel vision on grades, rank, law school prestige it could also be interesting pre/post law school experience, writing ability, etc.), judge's look for "fit" with themselves and chambers. That's a broad term, again, differing vastly judge by judge and difficult for the candidate themselves to assess pre-interview and sometimes post-interview. "Fit" encompasses characteristics like:

trust: Am I comfortable giving this clerk a short assignment on the spot knowing it will be vetted thoroughly?/Can they draft a full opinion with little oversight?/Will they cash it in halfway through their term?/Can the Judge have a frank conversation about this case or the clerk's work product, etc. with this person?

attitude: Will they have an arrogant approach to staff, litigants, etc./Are they "above" performing menial tasks like answering the phones or organizing a conference table themselves?/ Will they get along with their co-clerk(s), court reporters, and assistants?/ Is this someone the Judge would never want to see at a clerk reunion dinner or other celebration?

demeanor: Will they be a quiet person in a talkative chambers?/ Will they be a talkative person in a quiet chambers?/ Do they have interests outside the law?/ Do they laugh?/Are they fun or is this someone who can only talk about the law itself or job hunting, prestige, etc.?

motivations for being here: Do they actually care about clerking, itself, as an ends although the job is temporary? Are they here because their CSO or law school environment instilled in them that this is something you just have to do? In other words, is this someone who is checking a box for its own sake?/ Do they enjoy the research/writing and public interfacing components of the judiciary?

All of these components of fit are what judges are seeking out in addition to grades, writing ability, class rank, school prestige, etc. and are critical to performing the job's core tasks. That is why ppl remain dumbfounded as to why they don't receive a clerkship interview/final offer despite having, what they perceive as, the requisite credentials. Judges very much know who/what works for them and what doesn't and that is what makes the clerkship hiring process frustrating or confusing for many especially given the more concrete grade cutoff procedures employed by law firms during OCI or junior associate hiring. You can check off what are perceived as the baseline credentials, but if the fit isn't right, it won't work.
Last edited by Anonymous User on Thu Sep 20, 2018 3:53 pm, edited 2 times in total.

york1614

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Re: Motivation for clerking/what can clerks offer judges?

Postby york1614 » Thu Sep 20, 2018 2:12 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
genetics4lyfe wrote:1. What benefits do clerks provide judges? And what qualities do judges look for in seeking out clerks who can help them with their work (aside from writing skill, competence as evaluated by class performance, etc.).


I'll bite with the caveat that every judge's personality is different, their use of clerks varies widely, and that I'm speaking only for the federal judiciary as some state courts have concrete frameworks for the work clerks are required to perform.

Generally, the benefit of having a clerk for a judge is to have someone who can provide that judge with the "component parts" to make a decision regarding a specific motion, appeal, etc. Those component parts, as I mentioned above, take a variety of forms depending on how the judge has structured their chambers. Some judges use clerks for spot research purposes only because they draft their opinions entirely on their own while others use clerks to fully draft opinions on unpublished opinions for their review and others only allow clerks to draft bench memoranda and argue the cases in mock sessions to work through issues and develop questions for oral argument (in the appellate context of course). Some clerks essentially run their docket for their judge only bringing major issues to the judge's attention while other judges are hands-on their docket all the time and the clerk's role is more limited in that area. Depending on the judge's personality, a clerk can also serve as a sounding board (informal or formal) for approaches to opinion drafting, etc.

IMO, as an applicant whose application materials have passed an initial read through for whatever reason (contrary to this site's tunnel vision on grades, rank, law school prestige it could also be interesting pre/post law school experience, writing ability, etc.), judge's look for "fit" with themselves and chambers. That's a broad term, again, differing vastly judge by judge and difficult for the candidate themselves to assess pre-interview and sometimes post-interview. "Fit" encompasses characteristics like trust (am I comfortable giving this clerk a short assignment on the spot knowing it will be vetted thoroughly?/can they draft a full opinion with little oversight), attitude (do they have an arrogant approach to staff, litigants, etc./are they "above" answering the phones themselves), demeanor (are you a quiet person in a talkative chambers? do you have interests outside the law? do you laugh?), motivations for being here (do you not actually care about clerking, itself, or are you here because your CSO or law school instilled in you that this is something you have to do?/do you enjoy the research/writing and public interfacing components of the judiciary?)

All of these components of fit are what judges are seeking out in addition to grades, writing ability, class rank, school prestige, etc. and are critical to performing the job's core tasks. That is why ppl remain dumbfounded as to why they don't receive a clerkship interview/final offer despite having, what they perceive as, the requisite credentials. Judges very much know who/what works for them and what doesn't and that is what makes the clerkship hiring process frustrating or confusing for many especially given the more concrete grade cutoff procedures employed by law firms during OCI or junior associate hiring.


+ a million to this response, especially the part I put in bold. I clerked in a state appellate court and am clerking in the federal district court now. In both situations, your working environment feels tiny. You're constantly with the same people day in and day out, and consequently, fit becomes extremely important. In my mind, the characteristics you can immediately offer a judge/chambers are hard work (law school finals studying-like dedication year-round), earnestness, collegiality, and "youthful" excitement. By youthful excitement, I don't mean age--whether you're 24/25 or 45, I mean you're basically the opposite of jaded when it comes to the law and working in a legal setting. Assuming these things fit your personality at all, I think those are really beneficial "soft" characteristics that you can emphasize and that judges look for in assembling their chambers staff.

BlackAndOrange84

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Re: Motivation for clerking/what can clerks offer judges?

Postby BlackAndOrange84 » Thu Sep 20, 2018 2:30 pm

Here are two important, related things beyond competence and fit: (1) willingness to push back (respectfully, and aware of your position (baby lawyer) as compared to the judge) if you think the judge is missing something or wrong; and (2) having done (1), the ability to set aside your opinion and write what your boss wants without it being colored or weakened by your own views.

genetics4lyfe

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Re: Motivation for clerking/what can clerks offer judges?

Postby genetics4lyfe » Wed Sep 26, 2018 7:01 am

OP here. These are all so helpful--thank you for your responses!



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