What Is a Law Clerk and How Can Being One Advance My Career?

Apr 4, 2023

Recent law school grads often pursue judicial clerkships and internships for a good reason. They can serve as valuable opportunities to gain practical experience and exposure to the legal system. Clerking can offer insight into the inner workings of the judiciary and help you develop important legal research, writing and analytical skills.

A judicial clerkship is a full-time, paid position in which a recent law school graduate works closely with a judge for a specific period, typically one or two years. Clerks assist judges with tasks such as researching legal issues, drafting opinions and preparing for oral arguments. Clerkships are highly competitive and prestigious positions that can significantly enhance a lawyer’s career prospects.

Clerkships generally begin after law school graduation, and in many cases, after the individual has passed the bar exam. However, the timing can vary, and some clerks may start their clerkships before taking the bar exam or receiving their bar results. The application process for clerkships typically occurs during the second or third year of law school.

What Are Judicial Internships and Are They Worth It?

Law school students with the opportunity to pursue a judicial internship are often strongly encouraged to do so. A judicial internship or externship is typically unpaid (unlike a clerkship) for-credit position in which the law student works part-time or full-time for a judge during law school.

These opportunities are usually available during the summer or academic semesters (usually after the student’s first or second year of law school). Interns or externs assist judges with tasks such as conducting legal research, reviewing briefs and drafting memoranda.

The application process for these opportunities usually occurs during the school year, with deadlines varying by the specific program or judge.

Both judicial clerkships and internships/externships offer valuable experience and networking opportunities for aspiring lawyers. They can provide a solid foundation for understanding the judicial process, enhance legal research and writing skills and help establish professional relationships that can be beneficial throughout a legal career.

These relationships can last a lifetime and be extremely valuable for a student’s future, so there’s a strong incentive to approach the position with thoroughness and dedication.

The Benefits of Clerking for a Judge

Prestige: Judicial clerkships, especially federal clerkships, are highly competitive and prestigious positions. Having a clerkship on your resume can set you apart from other candidates and enhance your professional reputation.

Legal research and writing skills: As a law clerk, you will be responsible for researching complex legal issues and drafting opinions, orders or memoranda. This experience can help you develop excellent legal research, writing, and analytical skills that are valuable in any area of legal practice.

Understanding of the judicial process: Working closely with a judge can give you a unique perspective on the inner workings of the court system, trial procedures and decision-making processes. This understanding can be invaluable when transitioning to active practice, as you will be better equipped to navigate the courts and advocate for your clients effectively. This can be particularly valuable for recent law school grads who aspire to be trial lawyers.

Networking opportunities: Serving as a law clerk can help you build professional connections with judges, attorneys and other clerks who may one day have positions of importance and other legal professionals. These relationships can be beneficial in terms of mentorship, job opportunities and future career advancement.

Future career prospects: Law firms, government agencies and other employers often view law clerk experience as a significant asset. The skills and knowledge acquired during a clerkship can make you a more attractive candidate for various legal positions, and in some cases, may qualify you for higher starting salaries or more advanced roles.

Should You Pursue a Clerkship?

Students who graduate from law school often have divergent priorities pulling them in separate directions. Student loan debt or increased living expenses might be motivating you to jump right into a more lucrative legal career, but skipping a clerkship when ones available to you might not be the best course of action.

If you’re a recent college graduate or your clerkship is ending and you’re looking for positions at a plaintiff law firm in Atlanta, contact the Dressie Law Group at (678) 726-1429. We would be happy to talk with you.