There are myriad opportunities available to law students once they graduate. But with how hard it is to get into law school, and then how hard 1L is, and then how hard the internship search is, and the pile on the job search, it is often easy to be overwhelmed by ‘choice’ and ‘opportunity.’
The point of this article is to hopefully shine a light on one such opportunity, Clerkships.
Clerkships are one of the most coveted and prestigious experiences a law student can pursue. A clerkship offers invaluable experience in the legal field and can significantly impact a young lawyer’s career trajectory. In this article, we'll delve into the different types of clerkships available, why you should consider clerking, how to become a clerk, the pay involved, and more.
In general there are three types of Clerkships
Federal clerkships are among the most prestigious and competitive opportunities for lawyers. These positions involve working directly with a federal judge, typically at the US District Court, US Court of Appeals, or US Supreme Court level. Clerking at the federal level offers unparalleled exposure to the inner workings of the judiciary, as well as the chance to research and draft opinions on significant legal matters.
A US District Court clerkship involves working with a federal trial judge, where you'll gain firsthand experience in the trial process, manage case files, and draft opinions.
These clerkships are with appellate judges and involve researching, writing, and editing opinions on cases that are appealed from the district court level. This position is highly regarded and offers the chance to engage with complex legal issues.
The most prestigious of all federal clerkships, Supreme Court clerkships are notoriously competitive and involve working directly with a Supreme Court justice. Clerks often participate in the decision-making process, draft opinions, and perform legal research. Lawyers who clerk on the Supreme Court have typically completed at least two other Clerkships before hand.
State clerkships are similar to their federal counterparts but take place within the state judicial system. State clerkships typically involve working with state trial court judges, appellate court judges, or state supreme court justices. These positions offer valuable experience in the state legal system, allowing you to develop a deep understanding of state-specific laws and procedures.
International clerkships offer law students the opportunity to work within the judicial systems of other countries or with international organizations like the International Court of Justice or the United Nations. These positions can provide unique insights into comparative law, international legal issues, and global policy matters. International clerkships are often competitive and may require language proficiency or other specialized skills.
Clerking offers numerous professional and personal benefits for law students, including:
Although clerkship salaries can vary depending on the level and location, they are generally competitive with entry-level positions at small law firm. Federal clerkship salaries are set by the Judicial Salary Plan and are based on the years of legal experience. State and international clerkship salaries can vary widely depending on the specific location.
Becoming a law clerk typically involves a competitive application process that requires thorough preparation, strong academic credentials, and a well-rounded set of skills. Here are the general steps to follow in order to secure a clerkship:
Yes, and no.
Non-US citizens can become law clerks, but the opportunities and eligibility requirements may vary depending on the type of clerkship and the specific jurisdiction. These requirements may change over time, so I recommend reaching out to your school’s office of career services or the international student support services at your school for more specific information.
Clerks typically don’t fall under special restrictive rules for employment. Instead, Federal, State, and other judiciaries have their own citizenship requirements which Clerks are subject to. For example, Federal Clerks fall under the employment rules of the Federal Judiciary which restricts employment based on citizenship.
Federal Clerkship Citizenship Restrictions: Generally, only US citizens are eligible for Federal clerkships in the United States, but some exceptions do apply. For example, lawful permanent residents seeking citizenship, individuals admitted as refugees or granted asylum, and some others with specific legal status, may be eligible to be federal clerks.
Another major exception is courts that fall outside the continental US, namely federal courts in Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Guam, or the Northern Mariana Islands. These courts typically accept non-US citizens.
State Clerkships Citizenship Restrictions: Eligibility requirements for non-citizens seeking state clerkships vary by state. Some states have more lenient policies and allow non-citizens, including those with work visas or green cards, to work as clerks. Be sure to research the specific requirements for the state in which you are interested in clerking.
International Clerkships Citizenship Restrictions: Non-US citizens have more opportunities to secure clerkships in international courts or organizations, such as the International Court of Justice, the United Nations, or the World Trade Organization. Eligibility requirements will vary by organization, but these opportunities offer more flexibility for non-US citizens. Keep in mind that international clerkships may require language proficiency or other specialized skills.
A clerkship can be a transformative experience for any law student, providing a unique opportunity to develop skills, network with legal professionals, and set the stage for a successful legal career. Whether you're interested in federal, state, or international clerkships, they are a great step after law school to take the next step in your career.
I am the half of LSD that didn't take the LSAT, or go to law school (Sorry about that). But I did go to MIT business school while surrounded by law students and lawyers, so I am somewhat qualified to talk about the intricacies of law school apps and finances.
Windsor (the dog) didn't write this but he WAS a Resident Tutor and career advisor at Harvard College with me, so deserves some credit.