Judicial clerkships offer recent law school graduates the opportunity to work for a judge for one or two years. Clerkships are available in appellate and trial courts at the federal and state levels, as well as in some specialty courts.
A clerk's job is to help the judge do her or his work. This may mean researching the issues of law and fact, writing bench memoranda, reviewing the trial record (at the appellate level) or reviewing the evidence and recommending rulings on discovery issues (at the trial level). Depending on the judge's style and the relationship that you develop with the judge, you may have significant responsibility for research and drafting opinions.
A clerkship is an extension of your legal education. As a clerk, unlike in any other legal job, you will learn to evaluate issues from both sides and to thoroughly research and develop the reasoning to support a ruling. Your research, analytical, and writing skills will be sharpened, as will your judgment. Clerkships also offer insight into the judicial decision-making process and exposure to a wide range of types of law. Judges and their clerks often develop close mentoring relationships that last long after the clerk's term is over. Landing a clerkship is considered an honor, and the fact that you have clerked will be an asset to you for the rest of your career. Having clerked enhances any resume and will represent you as someone with excellent writing and reasoning skills. Whether you go on to work in a large firm, small firm, government, or some other setting, having clerked will give you a leg up in the application process.
There are clerkships that are right for many students who are interested in one; some students may not, however, be competitive for all clerkships. The clerkship hiring process is very personal and can vary greatly from judge to judge. Some judges are interested in candidates with journal experience; others prefer moot court or clinic experience. Some others may be more interested in a commitment to the judicial process or previous experience in working for a judge. That said, grades and class rank weigh heavily in most clerkship hiring decisions. Judges also look for other indicia of future success, such as dedication to the community, commitment to the local area, and thoughtful future career plans. Another primary consideration is whether a candidate fits well with other staff members. A judge's assistant and current clerks will likely feature prominently in the hiring process. It is often hard to predict which judge and chambers are the right fit for you. Meet with Erin Fullner in CPD to help you make choices about where to apply.
There are some drawbacks to consider in deciding whether to clerk. First, there are financial considerations. The pay is generally lower than you would find at most firm jobs, and a court will not pay for your bar expenses as some firms will. Second, you will be delaying the start of your career for a year or two. While some firms will give you credit on partnership and seniority tracks for the time spent at your clerkship, this is not always the case. Third, you may need to temporarily relocate to land a clerkship that really appeals to you.
As we will discuss in other sections, you need to make peace with these considerations before submitting your clerkship applications. Because of the special etiquette concerns involved in the clerkship process, it is not acceptable to turn down an offered clerkship for any of these reasons. Talk to Erin Fullner about these concerns before beginning the application process, ideally in your second year of school.
If you're interested in the work of a clerk but don't wish to seek a clerkship, you might wish to consider a judicial internship (unpaid and generally over the summer) or externship (for credit, over the summer or during the school year). SU has part-time and full-time judicial externship sponsors in all kinds of different courts. The externship program can also be excellent preparation for a post-graduation clerkship, in terms of experience, resume building, and making contacts. Check out the Externship Program's Web site and talk to Gillian Dutton about the externship program.