UVA Law Sets School Records Again in Clerkship Placement

Andrew  Kilberg, Galen  Bascom, Ben Tyson and Jonathan Urick

Virginia graduates Andrew Kilberg '14, Galen Bascom '13, Ben Tyson '14 and Jonathan Urick '13 are clerking for the Supreme Court during the 2015 term.

October 7, 2015

More than 100 graduates of the University of Virginia School of Law are clerking in the 2015 court term, including four at the U.S. Supreme Court and a school record 62 in U.S. district courts. This year marks the third time since 2011 the number of alumni clerkships has topped 100.

This year's success follows a record-setting term in 2014, Director of Clerkships Ruth Payne '02 said. That term featured school records in U.S. courts of appeal (35 clerkships), and the total number of clerkships (105; this year's tally so far is 102).

The school's graduates have a history of performing well at elite clerkship placement. UVA is fourth in contributing clerks to the Supreme Court from 2005-15, after Harvard, Yale and Stanford. According to ABA data, Virginia is fifth among law schools in the number of alumni earning federal appellate clerkships for the classes of 2012-14. ( Classes of 2012-14: Judges, courts and locations | Clerkships map, 2012-14 court terms)

"Our students make great clerks — our judges are happy and come back for more," Payne said. "Every year about 75 percent of our hires are from judges who've hired our graduates before."

Clerkships chartAnd the number of judges who hire UVA Law graduates is growing. At least 58 judges appointed by President Barack Obama have hired graduates.

Payne attributed some of the success to faculty who are dedicated to helping students achieve the best possible outcome.

"Our faculty both are very generous about helping students, but also are well-connected," she said.

Many alumni who clerk also advise Payne and students seeking clerkships, which helps create a cycle of success, she said. (Payne herself clerked for Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit and completed a one-year Bristow Fellowship with the U.S. Office of the Solicitor General.) And of course, many judges hold degrees from UVA Law — 160 according to Payne's records.

Clerkships are considered a prestigious stepping stone to a successful career in law. Graduates who clerk before starting work at a firm typically receive sizable bonuses and join as a second-year associate.

"Employers really want you to clerk," Payne said, and many government employers hire from the clerk pool. The hiring process for firms runs in parallel with the clerkship application and interviewing process, so that graduates finishing a clerkship can immediately start at a firm without another job search. Some graduates clerk for two years with different judges before launching their career.

Professor Micah Schwartzman , chair of the Clerkships Committee, said faculty are "strongly committed" to the school's clerkships program.

"Clerking is a great way to start your legal career, both in terms of gaining valuable experience and in opening doors to future career paths," Schwartzman said. "Because our students get so much out of their clerkships, we want to do everything we can to support them."

Tips for Would-Be Clerks

Ruth PayneDirector of Clerkships Ruth Payne has some advice for students considering clerkships. First, and most importantly, she said, "Stick with it." Students who are determined to clerk and work through what can be a long, tough process will eventually get a clerkship, she said.

Payne also counsels students to network as much as possible with professors, former employers and work contacts, alumni, and others. Students should consider joining the student bar, the Inns of Court, and other social and professional organizations to make more contacts.

"The more people you talk to, the easier it is to land a clerkship," she said.

The recruitment cycle for clerkships starts sooner than ever, Payne said, as judges have broken with the federal clerk hiring plan in recent years. Judges start recruiting top students after second-semester grades are posted, but even students who enter the hiring process in their third year can attain a clerkship.

"Don't count yourself out," she said.

Those who have followed Payne's advice have reported back how happy they are that they did. Payne said she's fielded many calls from graduates who say, "I didn't know how amazing this would be."

So get a head-start if you have any inclination to clerk, she said. "I want students to explore that when they still have all their options open to them."

Payne also works with alumni who decide to pursue a clerkship after graduating and working in another role.

"We support our alumni the same way we support our students," she said.

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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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