Before going into practice, or even in the midst of practicing, many of us wonder whether we should pursue a judicial clerkship. And if we do want to, what type should we do? The options are many: state supreme courts, state appellate or district courts, federal district courts, and even federal circuit courts. Clerkships can be one of the biggest highlights of a legal career. You get to work alongside judges in their chambers and learn what goes on behind the scenes. In this post, I explore five reasons why you should consider doing both a federal district court and a federal circuit court clerkship.
1. Enhanced Job Opportunities
There’s no question that federal clerkships make you more marketable. Obtaining a clerkship, especially a federal clerkship, is a selective and difficult process. When hiring personnel see that accolade on your resume, they know that you were vetted by a federal judge and that judge’s law clerks to get a coveted position in chambers. And to even get an interview with that judge, you had to have remarkable academic credentials.
When you’ve done both a federal district court clerkship and a circuit court clerkship, that marketability is only enhanced. To get that double clerkship, you had to survive two rounds of interview processes and likely received a recommendation from the first judge you clerked for.
Potential employers will also immediately recognize that you’ve spent two or more years looking at the entirety of the litigation process, from case inception through appeal. You have a unique understanding of what’s happening in the judge’s chambers during a discovery dispute and when the judge is preparing questions for oral argument. These insights will make you an invaluable team member on a variety of litigation projects.
2. Insight into Both Trial and Appellate Work
As new attorneys, many of us aren’t sure yet where we want to take our litigation practice. Do we want to be trial attorneys? Appellate attorneys? Do we even like litigation? Clerkships provide the opportunity to explore all of those questions before we accept a law firm, government, or non-profit attorney position.
At the district court, you’ll engage with a case from the moment it’s filed through the final order disposing of the case. You’ll witness settlement conferences, pour over motions for summary judgment, and even have the opportunity to sit in on trials. While engaging in that work, you can see if pre-trial or trial work really catches your attention.
But you also may not know yet if appellate work is really what invigorates you. As a clerk on the circuit court, you’ll often be directly involved in resolving issues of first impression and drafting opinions that affect the millions of people living within that circuit. You’ll also prepare the judge for oral argument and watch as the attorneys present to the panel. By having done the district court and circuit clerkship, you can easily assess which portion of the litigation process speaks to you most.
3. Time to Engage with Many Substantive Legal Areas
Just as we may not know when we first start our careers whether we prefer trial or appellate work, we may not have a strong idea of what substantive area of the law we want to specialize in. Employment law? Environmental law? Securities litigation?
Doing clerkships at both levels gives you time to explore these important questions. During both clerkships, you’ll get to investigate a wide variety of cases and legal issues. Finding out early on that you can’t stand securities litigation can save you time and prevent professional angst later on in your career.
4. Opportunity to Explore Different Geographic Locations
In addition to not knowing what type of law we want to practice, we may not know where we want to practice. Doing both a district court and circuit court clerkship is a great way to explore different parts of the country. Many judges, knowing how competitive clerkship placements are, aren’t partial to candidates from any specific geographic location. So, unlike a firm in a closed market, it can be easier to snag a clerkship in a geographic location in which you don’t have a personal tie. With two clerkships, you can see what living and practicing is like in different areas of the country before embarking on the rest of your career.
5. Deep Connections to Co-Clerks
Clerking isn’t just about the close relationship you develop with your judge—it’s also an opportunity to create lasting professional relationships and friendships with the other attorneys you clerk with. Chambers differ in the number of clerks they have in any given year, but typically a judge has between 3-4 clerks annually. You work alongside those clerks day in and day out on critical legal issues and all projects going on in chambers. It creates a collaborative atmosphere where everyone is pushed to do their best work and improve as attorneys. The bonds you create during the process are irreplaceable. And by doing more than one clerkship, you have an even better opportunity to create those lasting ties.
The benefits of clerking, and especially doing both a district court clerkship and circuit court clerkship, are many. By pursuing both, you’ll be able to spearhead your career and create relationships that will span decades.
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