Clerking with a judge can be a great way to start a legal career

For many, fall is a lovely season: a kaleidoscope of reds, yellows and oranges. It is a quaint time filled with visits to the pumpkin patch, costume parties and crisp autumn walks. Law students, however, have a different view of fall. It’s a season of horrors; a time consumed by job searching, cover letters, interviews, follow-up letters and rejection letters.

Considering the amount of debt accumulated in seven years, it is no surprise that many law students apply or plan to apply to large firms. It’s understandable. With that in mind, do not let quick gratification blind you from considering other opportunities that may bring about the same, if not more, benefits — albeit less quickly. As we enter the fall, consider applying for a judicial clerkship.

Clerkships are available in both the federal and state courts, and at both the trial and appellate court level. Trial court clerks are involved in fact-finding and the daily processing of litigation: motion practice, discovery disputes and settlement conferences. In contrast, appellate court clerks research the issues of law and fact, and draft memoranda and/or working opinions for judges.

Many attorneys view the judicial clerkship as a distinguished way to begin a legal career. So, consider a judicial clerkship, even if you’ve accepted an offer. While that may seem irrational, the following seven reasons explain why law firms view clerkships so favorably and why many will preserve their original offer if you decide to accept a judicial clerkship.

1. Judicial law clerks are exposed to many different areas of law. This allows you to gain relevant experience in diverse fields and may help you decide which fields interest you. As a law clerk, I frequently grappled with foreclosures, rights of redemptions, confessed judgments, business/corporate law, criminal motions, post-convictions, administrative law, and once, the death penalty.

2. The amount of time spent in intensive research and writing will provide you with valuable experience that will benefit you greatly in your subsequent legal career. As any lawyer knows, many cases, including criminal motions, are won with well-written and well-researched briefs, not bombastic oral arguments.

3. Being a judicial law clerk forces you to become extremely familiar with procedure. How many days does a party have to file a response? When does a Motion to Dismiss become a Motion for Summary Judgment? While such knowledge may not seem appealing at first, it may be the difference between winning and jeopardizing your case.

4. Judicial law clerks gain valuable experience in advocacy and confidence by frequently discussing and, on occasion, defending a position with their respective judge.

5. Some judges take a personal interest in the future success of their law clerks and take the role of a mentor. During my clerkship, I met several judges who kept close contact with past clerks (many of whom received letters of recommendations from said judges).

6. This leads me to my next point — the competitive selection process leads many law firms to view judicial law clerks as highly desirable attorneys who have been hand chosen by well-respected judges. A recommendation from a judge, especially a local judge, may go a long way when applying for a position at a law firm.

7. Finally, judicial law clerks often develop resourceful networks through their daily interaction with lawyers and judges.  During my tenure, I personally met and worked with 10 judges and met many attorneys. My experience may be unique because I worked in a single judge district that often required a visiting judge, but clerkships offer one the opportunity to meet and become acquainted with all rungs of the legal community.

I’m new to the Generation J.D. stable of bloggers, and in the coming months I hope to discuss my experiences in the courtroom, offer tips and words of encouragement for law students, take an occasional stroll through the minefield of case law (especially as it pertains to criminal law) and, once in a blue moon, offer my slant on the world of sports.

Today, however, I wanted to write about judicial clerkships. They are an investment. They provide future attorneys with valuable research and writing experience, and offer numerous rewards. As a result, many law firms view clerkships as valuable experience that will benefit their firm.

For this reason, more and more law firms offer financial bonuses to attorneys with clerkship experience.  Some go as far as crediting an attorney’s time as a judicial law clerk towards advancement in salary and/or position. Thus, there is little reason not to at least consider applying for a judicial clerkship. Whatever your decision, I wish you the best of luck during this demanding and occasionally nerve-racking process.

6 thoughts on “Clerking with a judge can be a great way to start a legal career

  1. While this may be a great idea, Reality is there are no jobs.
    Every law firm is looking for one to two years experience.

    Networking is not helpful in this time either, due to big firms cutting expenses. Basically not hiring. So, get real.
    You may have to start at the bottom and work your way up all while trying to pay your 100,000 and some loan off.

  2. This is exactly what I want to accomplish. I really want a mentor to observe and one whose brain I can pick. I think it is very important for a successful and fulfilling legal career.

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