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Posted Aug. 10, 2009

New Office to Focus on Judicial Clerkships as Number of Clerks Rise

Ruth Payne

The Law School is establishing an independent Office of Judicial Clerkships, aimed to help students interested in gaining clerkship experience before entering the job market.

The decision comes amid rising student interest in clerkships, according to Ruth Payne ’02, who will head the new office as the director of judicial clerkships.

“This is a way of consolidating all of the information that is out there for students, and for providing more support for them as they go through the clerkship program,” Payne said.  

A total of 80 students and graduates successfully applied for clerkships this past year. This represents the largest number of clerks placed in a single year since the law school started tracking placement numbers, Payne said. That includes 42 students and alumni in federal district court and 31 students and alumni with the U.S. Court of Appeals. Four students were hired to clerk for the U.S. Supreme Court.

Payne, who joined the Career Services Office in 2008 with a focus on clerkships, said the new office will try to get students interested in clerkships early in their academic careers.

“The hope is for the office to be a one-stop shop for clerking,” she said. “Students can come in and get an idea early on about what they need to do to be in a good position to be competitive for clerkships. When they are ready to apply, we will help them look at their options, see where they are going to be competitive and how they can maximize their chances of being successful.”

In the current job market, applying for a clerkship is a sound move for students who want to develop their legal skills before applying for jobs in firms or elsewhere.

“In this market I think there are two very important things going on with clerkships,” Payne said. “One is that other job opportunities are shrinking. A clerkship is a great place for a student to go for a year and wait out the market, to get an extra year to see where their best opportunities will be.”

Secondly, firms and other employers are increasingly looking for new hires with practical experience, and a clerkship is a great way to get that experience, Payne said.

“What you increasingly hear is that law firms are no longer going to be able to justify paying huge salaries for first-year associates who have no practical skills,” she said. 

“A clerkship is among the best things you can do to get hands-on experience when you are just starting out in the field. Students will come out of a one- or two-year clerkship knowing how to do legal research, knowing how to write an opinion, knowing what good advocacy looks like, and that makes them incredibly valuable to potential employers.”

One of the main goals of the new office will be to make students aware that clerkships are available for all students, Payne said.

“There’s a mentality that clerkships are only for the top few students, and it’s just not true. We’ve had clerkship success for students across all GPA levels.  Not everybody who applies will get a clerkship, but clerkships opportunities are out there for everybody.”

The office will also put a renewed emphasis on providing support to alumni who are interested in judicial clerkships, Payne said.

“We try and support our alums in the same way that we support our students,” she said. “In some cases, we are seeing more judges looking at alums. In years past, you saw most of the federal judges hiring 3Ls. Now, some of those judges are shifting to hiring graduates with a little bit of experience.”

 

law school Clerkships
Year Supreme Court Federal Appeals Federal Trial Total Federal State Supreme State Appellate State Trial Total
2009 4 31 42 77 1 2 0 80
2008 1 21 42 64 2 1 1 68
2007 1 21 35 57 1 0 2 60