Number of UVA Law Clerkships Reaches Milestone

Ruth Payne

Ruth Payne, director of judicial clerkships at the Law School, cites the reputation and work ethic of UVA Law students as key factors behind the increase in clerkships.

January 4, 2012

The number of University of Virginia School of Law graduates clerking with judges in a single year has reached 100 — marking the highest total in the school's history.

The clerkships for the 2011-12 court year include four with the U.S. Supreme Court, tying Virginia Law for second among law schools nationwide in the number of alumni clerking for sitting Supreme Court justices.

In addition to the Supreme Court clerks, there are 74 Virginia alumni clerking for other federal courts, 21 clerking in state courts and one clerking for the International Court of Justice. The clerkships are located in 30 states and Washington D.C., with the highest number in Virginia, followed by Washington, New York and Texas.

During the 2010-11 court year, 77 UVA Law graduates held clerkships.

Ruth Payne, director of judicial clerkships at the Law School, cited the reputation and work ethic of UVA students as key factors behind the increase.

"What I've found is that once we've put a UVA student in a clerkship, the judge will frequently come back and hire from us every year," she said. "Our students are known for just going in and getting the job done — being workmanlike, taking the work seriously, putting their nose to the grindstone, doing the research and producing high-quality writing. I hear from judges all the time who say, 'I'm really glad I hired this student. Can you make sure applicants are looking at me next year from Virginia?'"

Payne added that a down economy has influenced students to consider a wider range of jobs recently as well, and strong support from faculty is helping to turn that interest into clerkship placements.

"The faculty really went above and beyond in pushing their candidates," she said.

Professor Micah J. Schwartzman, chairman of the faculty clerkships committee, said the faculty is dedicated to helping every student who wants a clerkship.

"Our faculty is heavily involved in helping to place students in federal and state court clerkships," he said. "This includes advising students, networking with alumni, contacting judges and reaching out to new members of the bench. These efforts have contributed to placing record numbers of clerks over the past few years, including at the Supreme Court."

Schwartzman said the faculty keeps trying if a student is not immediately successful in finding a clerkship.

"If a student doesn't place this year, we don't give up," he said. "Perseverance matters. The clerkship process can be difficult, but as long as our applicants are committed to finding a clerkship, we will keep working with them to explore every available opportunity."

Contributing to this year's increase was a strong pool of alumni and third-year law students, Payne said, with many of the candidates particularly interested in state court clerkships.

"Because many of them want to be prosecutors or public defenders, they were really interested in state court clerkships in the states where they hope to practice," she said. "So we had a very large pool of successful applicants at the state trial level this year. That is probably the single best place someone right out of law school can go if they want to be a state prosecutor or commonwealth's attorney. And I think that this year we had a number of students who saw that opportunity."

Lucas Beirne, a third-year law student and an articles development editor of the Virginia Law Review, has also been working to encourage clerkships.

In the past, the Law Review's articles development editors have gathered basic clerkship information from third-year members of the Law Review and passed the information along to the second-year members. Beirne expanded that program this year to solicit detailed advice from the third-year members, and put together a panel information session and information packets for the second-year members.

"We hope that through our structuring of a mentorship process in the Law Review that we can supplement the excellent advice and support that Ruth Payne and the Law School provide," he said.

Beirne will be clerking for Judge T.S. Ellis III of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia for the 2012-13 term. He said he hopes the clerkship will provide him with and an up-close perspective on how litigation proceeds through federal courts and how judges make their decisions, as well as a solid base of training for his legal career and possibly a lifelong mentor.

"I'm looking to it as a foundation for my future profession as a lawyer," he said.

Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.

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