These days I am thinking a lot about judicial clerkships—for two reasons. First, because I wish I had done one so many years ago when I was preparing to graduate from Georgetown Law and hiring women in government was getting a lot of attention. Regents of the University of California v. Bakke (US Supreme Court, 1978), the seminal affirmative action case, had just been decided, and reverse discrimination and affirmative action issues were very much on the minds of employers–especially government employers. There were some wonderful new opportunities for women in those days, and I wish I had pursued a federal court clerkship at the time. There is only one opportunity for this in most legal careers, and you have to grab that brass ring when it comes your way.
The other reason gives hope to the “second chance” theory. Although it will not be me experiencing a federal court clerkship, it will be my daughter, and for that I am both proud and grateful. Her clerkship begins in August, and I am very excited for her. Judicial clerkships are great learning experiences and have benefits throughout a legal career, from skills learned, to salary enhancements, to unparalleled networking and career opportunities.
I expect that many of you are in this same situation, and I applaud your choices and your hard work in getting chosen for these highly coveted clerkships. Go in with your eyes wide open and be hungry for information. Learn everything you can because, in most cases, you only will have one year to learn it. That year will go by very fast, and you want to make the most of it.
This is what you can expect. You will start out in a Training Program of some sort, where you, as the incoming clerk, will overlap with the outgoing clerk. The objective of these training programs is to provide the judge with the smoothest transition possible between law clerks. The length of these training sessions will vary and often are dependent on the court’s financial resources, but a week shadowing the outgoing clerk is pretty standard. Be aware that the outgoing clerk has a lot on his or her mind, like getting ready for the new job, finding the new apartment, salvaging some beach time before the new start date, etc. So, you will have to listen carefully and not waste the outgoing clerk’s time. Too many unnecessary questions will probably sour the conversation and gain you a not-so-glorious reputation in chambers early on.
Some things you should hope will be addressed during your training program are:
- The ethical responsibilities of your position;
- Familiarity with the local rules;
- Drafting general orders; and
- Accessing legal definitions, frequently referenced judicial standards, and often-cited opinions through the on-line service available to the court. These and other issues related to training judicial law clerks are discussed in a recent Ms. JD blog that you may find interesting and helpful.
August and September, and even part of October, can be times of great learning for you. Act like Sponge Bob—or Sponge Betty— and soak up everything you can before you get preoccupied with interviewing for jobs following your clerkship. It will become a difficult and demanding schedule as you go further into the fall recruiting period, and you will be challenged to keep up with the responsibilities of the court and plan your next career move simultaneously. But, you are the best of the best, and you can do it. That is why you were selected for these prestigious positions.
Good luck to all of you who are about to embark on judicial clerkships. You chose well and you did well. So did the judge in choosing you.
Remember that as your confidence wanes as you encounter new and unfamiliar tasks. Nothing in law school prepared you for much of this. That is why they call it a learning curve—because, like a curve on the highway, it can be hard to negotiate. But you are up to the task!