What is a judicial clerkship?
Judicial clerkships are one- to two-year paid, post-graduate positions with federal, state, and some local judges (as opposed to judicial internships and externships, which are summer or academic year placements for current law students). Both trial and appellate courts hire clerks. While most clerks are hired by and work closely with an individual judge (and, hence, are sometimes called “elbow clerks”), occasionally clerks work as part of a “pool” for all the judges in a court. The duties of a clerk can vary somewhat from court to court, although typical responsibilities include drafting memoranda that analyze cases before the court and recommend a disposition of a case (known as “bench briefs”), as well as drafting opinions and orders of the court. Clerks may also assist in trials, oral arguments, and other courtroom procedures.
Why would I want to clerk?
Research and writing are at the heart of any clerkship. Regardless of what area of law you are thinking about practicing, a clerkship is an unparalleled opportunity to learn the judicial system and judicial decision-making from the inside, and to dramatically improve your legal research and writing skills. Most clerks enjoy close mentor relationships with their judges that extend long after their clerkships are over. In addition, clerkships are considered prestigious in the eyes of the legal profession and can enhance your employment opportunities for years to come.
What are my options?
While there is no one timetable for all judges, some federal court judges begin accepting applications as early as the summer before the start of your 2L year. In North Carolina, in addition to federal judges located throughout the state, each of the 15 judges of the North Carolina Court of Appeals and the seven justices of the Supreme Court of North Carolina employ at least two clerks (these are all appellate clerkships). The five Business Court judges (special superior court judges who are trial judges) each have two clerks as well. The CDO puts on programs about clerkships which will educate you about the application process.