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So you want to be a trial court clerk …

Congratulations to the law school graduates who recently completed the bar exam. Now that the bar is over, you can turn your attention to what I hope are rewarding positions and careers in the legal profession.  Like me, many young lawyers will defer practicing law for a year, maybe two, for the opportunity to clerk for a judge or a court.

The benefits of clerking are myriad. Judicial clerkships not only provide young lawyers with crucial insights into the judicial process but also foster important mentoring and networking opportunities. Whether you clerk on the trial or appellate level, clerkships allow lawyers to develop important research and writing skills that are highly valued skills in the legal profession.

With my clerkship in Baltimore City Circuit Court quickly coming to an end, I have had the chance to reflect on my experience clerking for a trial court judge – both what I have learned along the way and wish I knew at the outset. The following four tips will allow you to hit the ground running in your clerkship and make the most of the experience.

1. Know how to triage. Because of the high volume of matters trial courts hear on a daily basis, they are busy. At any given moment in chambers, you may be expected to field questions from a litigant or an attorney, answer the phones and look up a rule or delivery jury instructions to the judge while he or she is on the bench. You will have to quickly learn how to multitask, prioritize and fulfill these duties realizing, of course, that the judge’s request always comes first.

2. You are an extension of your judge. Unlike appellate level clerks, law clerks in trial courts tend to have more direct interaction with the attorneys (and on occasion, the litigants) who appear before their judges. Remember that when you speak to an attorney, you’re doing so on your judge’s behalf. Your professionalism and diligence in making sure the information you give out is always correct is critical to your role as your judge’s representative and spokesperson.

3. The rules of procedure are your friends. Embrace them. Many of your questions about how the judicial process works (no doubt you will have many) can be answered by simply reading the rule itself. Begin to familiarize yourself with these rules from day one and you will instantly begin to gain confidence in and comfort with your job.

4. Be nice to courthouse staff. The secretaries, clerks and sheriff’s deputies who staff the courthouse are essential to your work as a law clerk. You will interact with these individuals on a daily basis and you will soon find that their expertise will make your job much easier. And when you come to them for a favor (or a bailout), you will want them to help you. It goes without saying: you should always treat the courthouse staff with respect.

I have thoroughly enjoyed my clerkship and I hope that your experience is as rewarding and fulfilling as mine has been.

One comment

  1. GREAT advice and well written!