Judicial Clerkship Guide: Why Pursue a Clerkship?

Judicial Clerkship Guide: Why Pursue a Clerkship?

This section of the Clerkship Manual discusses reasons for pursuing a clerkship. To download a full copy of the Clerkship Manual, click here.

II. Why Pursue a Clerkship?

A great experience: Clerking is an opportunity unlike anything that you have done in law school or will be able to do in your professional career. New law school graduates gain an inside perspective on how courts make decisions, getting the chance to participate in the judicial process and learn the law from the inside before many of their peers have come anywhere near a courtroom. In addition, a law clerk often serves as a close advisor to a judge, developing a mentoring relationship that can last a lifetime. Law clerks do work that is both relevant and meaningful. They help judges make real decisions that directly affect people’s lives. While a clerkship opportunity provides significant professional development, it is also an enjoyable and intensely rewarding experience. Clerks commonly point to their clerkships as one of the best and most interesting experiences of their legal careers.

Mentorship: For most clerks, the clerkship year results in a mentorship relationship that often lasts for life. Many judges have had interesting and prominent legal careers before joining the bench. That experience is enhanced by their years on the bench. As one of only two to four clerks, you will almost always work closely with the judge and get to know him or her quite well. Many judges get to know their clerks personally as well as professionally and take their role as mentor quite seriously.

Education: A clerkship offers the chance for intense post-graduate education free from the pressure of the billable hour. Although the type of work performed by clerks will vary depending on the court and judge, it almost always involves complex substantive legal issues and affords clerks the opportunity to analyze and articulate a variety of legal issues in different substantive areas at an early stage of their careers. Clerks learn the difference between effective and ineffective advocacy from reading briefs and observing trials and oral arguments, and assessing the effects of this advocacy on the judge’s decision-making. This information serves as a solid foundation for the clerk’s own practical lawyering skills as he or she leaves the clerkship.

Career advancement: A clerkship of ANY kind is an invaluable credential in a new attorney’s legal career. Especially in a tight job market, a clerkship is a credential that helps differentiate you from other recent law school graduates. It is attractive to all types of legal employers and helps build career-long contacts through your co-clerks and others who clerked for your judge, as well as your fellow clerks in the same building or court system. You may also get to know the lawyers who practice before the court where you clerk. Above all, you will establish a relationship with your judge, which may be one of the most valuable contacts of your career. Given the value of a clerkship, many law firm employers will defer the post-graduation start date for a student who receives an offer of permanent employment to enable the student to accept a clerkship. Firms may also allow a leave of absence of one to two years in order for young associates to complete a clerkship. Students should ask about their respective firm’s policy on judicial clerkships to determine if their start date may be deferred.