A judicial clerkship offers endless opportunities for those who love law, litigation, distinguishing between decisions, research, and the chance to make a difference. Leaving aside the prestige and money that come as natural consequences of good service, a judicial clerkship teaches you to view legal matters from the perspectives and needs of a judge in contrast with the perspective of a law firm associate – which is to serve the client at any cost.
First things first: If you are interested in a Judicial Clerkship position, kindly note that for the Federal Law Clerk Hiring Plan for 2012, the first date for applications by third-year applicants is Tuesday, September 4, 2012. From Friday, September 7, judges may begin to contact third-year applicants and schedule interviews. By Thursday, September 13, interviews and offers would start.
As a student of law, which all good attorneys remain throughout their careers, a judicial clerkship teaches you to approach matters from a non-partisan angle and provides opportunities to sum up and research the submissions of highly regarded professionals. That you also have a judge as your mentor is an obvious boon, but more than that, when you are in judicial clerkship, you are learning from the submissions of the best minds in the bar, not helping them to create the product, but being in a position to judge and compare the merits of the finished products. Your job is as much qualitative as quantitative, and the grunt hours disappear when you are faced with a succession of fresh intellectual challenges every day.
The type of work that needs to be done by a judicial clerk differs upon the settings of the court where he/she is employed, as well as the wishes of the judge under whom the clerk is working. The judicial clerk is supposed to be a ‘full-time’ help to the judge and be prepared to learn fast, deliver fast, and work longer hours than in a law firm. But at the end of it all, you can sharpen you legal mind to your heart’s satisfaction and gain peer recognition and respect as a subject expert faster than in most other tracks open to a law graduate.
According to the nature of your situation, you would be required to draft memoranda and court opinions, do proofreading, check decisions that have been cited, and also may need to do administrative tasks like assembling documents or maintaining docket and library. Recent law graduates and students usually begin either as trial court clerks or as appellate court clerks.
While working for the trial court, a judicial clerk has a greater range of functions than that carried out by an appellate court clerk. The reason is that the trial court is a fact finding court, interpretation of statutes are usually stricter, especially in criminal matters, and one has to be very careful, because mistakes of fact have greater legal impact than mistakes of law. A judicial clerk working at a trial court may need to deal directly with litigants and deal with the entire litigation process. The trial court judicial clerk is usually concerned with discovery, settlement, and trials. He/she needs to draft trial briefs and opinions, as well as shoulder the responsibilities of maintaining contact with attorneys and witnesses.
A judicial clerk working for an appellate court has work to satisfy greater intellectual leanings. While working at the trial court makes you the master of procedural law, working at an appellate court trains your brain to think substantive. An appellate court judicial clerk is expected to review cases sent up from trial courts for errors, review the records, review the briefs of the parties to the matter, research all applicable law and draft or help to draft memoranda or judicial opinion. A judicial clerk working for an appellate court has little contact with litigants or lawyers.
When answering the question of what to expect as a judicial clerk, obviously an article cannot be completed without the mention of income potential. Despite claims that may be to the contrary, and exceptional payments for exceptional people, the average salary is close to, or below $50,000. However, this low pay is adequately compensated later in life with the experience and knowledge gained on the job. In fact, most law firms are ready to pay higher salaries to new associates who have done judicial clerkships in their second or third years.
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