The nature of a judicial clerkship depends on the court’s level and the individual judges. At the highest levels, such as the U.S. Supreme Court, the U.S. Court of Appeals and the highest state courts, the appellate clerk conducts intensive research and writes on the complicated questions of law that remain on appeal. In federal district courts and in the lower state courts, the clerk has more direct exposure to many aspects of the litigation process and becomes more involved in judicial decision-making and opinion writing, depending on the judge. Clerks get insider-views of the judicial process, help to shape case opinions, sometimes formulate new laws and forge professional relationships that may benefit them for the rest of their careers.
Many appellate courts also employ attorneys in permanent staff positions. Often, these attorneys screen pending cases and make recommendations to the court on how the case should be treated – such as whether there should be full briefing and oral argument, whether the case should be decided summarily and whether the case presents novel issues of law. These attorneys also draft opinions, research legal issues for judges, make recommendations on how to proceed with complex procedural matters and help oversee the court’s workflow.
Judicial clerkship advising is handled by the Office of Career Services.
Summer Judicial Internships: A Note of Caution
Some judges turn to first year law student volunteers during the summer for assistance with their case loads. We believe that clerking after graduation is an extremely valuable experience. However, we tell students looking to pursue public interest work after graduation working during your law school summers in public interest organizations and government agencies may better inform you about your interests and the direction you wish to take after law school. By spending a summer clerking for a judge, or even researching for a professor, you may miss out on a critical chance to work with practicing lawyers firsthand, develop a vision of what you want to do with your law degree after graduation, build a base of contacts in a field that potentially interests you and broaden the experience section on your resume. You will certainly gain other useful skills, but you will have sacrificed an opportunity to test out a specific public interest practice area.
For these reasons, we strongly advise our students interested in public service to use their summers to gain more direct lawyering experience. Students who decide to pursue judicial internships are encouraged to exercise caution. Since many judges have post-graduate clerks working for them, there is a danger that you will end up doing administrative work delegated to you by the clerks. Find out about the level of responsibility you will be given, talk to other interns who have worked for your prospective judge, and investigate your role in the judge’s chambers. Be certain that you will be doing substantive research and writing, not just clerical work, and that you will be exposed to what transpires in the courtroom.
Do not assume that a summer internship with a judge necessarily will help you get a post-graduate clerkship. Some judges have policies not to consider their former summer interns for post-graduate clerkship positions or to recommend their former summer interns to other judges for post-graduate clerkship positions. Expectations and etiquette within the judiciary can be delicate matters.