Why Clerk (seriously)?

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Why Clerk (seriously)?

Postby Anonymous User » Sat Sep 02, 2017 5:08 pm

I know that this thread concept has been done before, but I don't know if the posters in the past asked the right questions. I was recently offered an interview with a Federal Circuit judge and also just accepted a Summer Associate position at a V20 that pays 180k in Chicago.

Everyone says clerking is a great job, gives you invaluable perspective, and helps you establish a relationship with a judge. This all sounds great, and these reasons definitely draw me to clerking, but I feel like no one ever takes the side against clerking, and that concerns me. There must be a downside, right?

Assume I am fortunate enough to get this clerkship and get a post-grad offer from my 2L SA firm. I start the clerkship after graduating and then after one year I return to the firm. As a clerk in the area in which that judge sits, I would make about $65k a year. My firm pays a 50K-75K clerkship bonus. As a first year associate I would have made 180k with approximately a 15k bonus. Presumably I would proceed to the second-year pay scale whether I clerked or not, so that is cancelled out on BOTH SIDES (let me know if I'm wrong). Simple math produces a difference of $65k-$80k. That's a rather large chunk of change, especially considering that I will have about $120k of law school debt.

So my question is: Does a COA clerkship make up for the $65k-$80k anticipated loss? Do the insight and connections make serious practical differences in former clerks' careers? Are clerks more likely to make partner at the firms they go to? Are their exit options better than they otherwise might be? Or is the value of a clerkship much more difficult to quantify? I know many people in high places have clerked. Is it just a leap of faith in a sense?

I have also already interviewed with a Federal District Court Judge and am still waiting on a response. I know quite a few attorneys that have done a clerkship at both levels and they swear by it, but at that point the compensation differential gets well into six figures. Is doing both of them worth it? Does it depend on where you clerk?

I know some trolls are going to come call this a humblebrag thread, but I am really just looking to start a useful dialogue about all this. All I've heard throughout law school is that clerking is the best. No one has ever really laid out the cons. Are they supposed to be obvious? Help me make sense of this, guys. Thanks.

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A. Nony Mouse
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Re: Why Clerk (seriously)?

Postby A. Nony Mouse » Sat Sep 02, 2017 5:14 pm

What do you want to do in the long run? If you want to stay in the same firm forever, that's one thing, but clerkships tend to make you more employable - certain government jobs de facto require them, and they can make you more marketable to other firms (though I'm less of an expert on this side of things).

This is assuming you want to do lit, of course. If you don't then it's a very different story, it seems.

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Re: Why Clerk (seriously)?

Postby Anonymous User » Sat Sep 02, 2017 5:19 pm

A. Nony Mouse wrote:What do you want to do in the long run? If you want to stay in the same firm forever, that's one thing, but clerkships tend to make you more employable - certain government jobs de facto require them, and they can make you more marketable to other firms (though I'm less of an expert on this side of things).

This is assuming you want to do lit, of course. If you don't then it's a very different story, it seems.


OP here. I do want to do Litigation, and my ultimate aspiration would probably be to work as a partner in a firm with a strong litigation practice. At this point I have no intention of seeking a career in government. I have heard almost nothing but good things about clerking, and the experience sounds amazing, but I'm just trying to add some quantitative analysis to this whole thing. Sure I'd love to go work with a judge for a year or two. It would be an honor, but is it worth doing when I have a 180k job lined up and debts to pay?

FascinatedWanderer
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Re: Why Clerk (seriously)?

Postby FascinatedWanderer » Sat Sep 02, 2017 5:31 pm

My perspective is that it's well worth picking up a year of seniority instead of doing the first year drudge work at the random Vault firm you'd be at.

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lavarman84
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Re: Why Clerk (seriously)?

Postby lavarman84 » Sat Sep 02, 2017 5:35 pm

If money is all that matters to you, pass on it. But there's a lot of value in it:
1. The experience - I just started, but you're doing more substantive work than you'd likely do as a junior in biglaw. I also am enjoying what I'm doing and not working insane hours. It's a nice transition from law school (and college) to a career.(I was a K-JD, so it's nice jumping into a job that isn't super intense and doesn't have awful hours [I work 45-50 hours per week] right away.)
2. The mentorship/networking opportunities - You might have a mentor-mentee relationship with a federal judge (who are incredibly successful and connected lawyers), and you'll become friends with the other clerks at the courthouse (who are people with great credentials like yourself). You also have the network of that judge's former clerks.
3. Signalling - It will be on your resume for life, and it is an excellent credential to have.

I'm sure others will add more reasons to do it after my post. Yea, you'll sacrifice money in the short-term. If you're not comfortable with that, it's fine. Plenty of people feel the same way. However, I think it's worth it.

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mjb447
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Re: Why Clerk (seriously)?

Postby mjb447 » Sat Sep 02, 2017 5:46 pm

Interesting - I feel like I've actually seen a few threads talking about whether clerkships are worth the financial hit.

I think the value of a clerkship is hard to quantify meaningfully. Part of the problem is that clerkships vary a lot - some judges will be mentors or make calls for you, and others won't. Some judges have a strong network of former clerks, and others don't. Some judges work insane hours and can make your year awful, and others are great bosses. Some judges are respected nationally, some regionally, and some not at all. Etc., etc. Whether it's worth foregoing a year of biglaw pay and experience to do a clerkship is going vary a great deal as a result.

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Re: Why Clerk (seriously)?

Postby RedPurpleBlue » Sat Sep 02, 2017 5:53 pm

As a newly minted 1L, I'd like to add my own questions into this discussion. Clerkships are, of course, a frequently discussed topic here and some of my 1L peers and the 2L/3L students I have run into so far have mentioned them, so I'm naturally intrigued.

1. If i'm interested in transactional work, is the value added of a clerkship significantly lower than if I were in litigation?

2. If i'm interested in litigation but have no real interest in working for the government, would a clerkship still be helpful?

From what I can gleam from this forum, clerkships are really for people who want to

1) break into litigation boutiques (e.g. Bartlit Beck, Kellogg Hansen)
2) do appellate work
3) work for the federal government in a DOJ/AUSA capacity

Am I missing anything?

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runinthefront
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Re: Why Clerk (seriously)?

Postby runinthefront » Sat Sep 02, 2017 6:05 pm

RedPurpleBlue wrote:As a newly minted 1L, I'd like to add my own questions into this discussion. Clerkships are, of course, a frequently discussed topic here and some of my 1L peers and the 2L/3L students I have run into so far have mentioned them, so I'm naturally intrigued.

1. If i'm interested in transactional work, is the value added of a clerkship significantly lower than if I were in litigation?

2. If i'm interested in litigation but have no real interest in working for the government, would a clerkship still be helpful?

From what I can gleam from this forum, clerkships are really for people who want to

1) break into litigation boutiques (e.g. Bartlit Beck, Kellogg Hansen)
2) do appellate work
3) work for the federal government in a DOJ/AUSA capacity

Am I missing anything?


1. Yes. I probably wouldn't clerk if I were interested in transactional work.

2. Yes.

And, in response to your last question, I do think you're missing something. Clerkships aren't just for those who want to break into litigation boutiques, work in appellate practices, and/or work for the federal government.

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Re: Why Clerk (seriously)?

Postby Anonymous User » Sat Sep 02, 2017 7:12 pm

Some benefits of clerkship, aside from superficial career advancement as discussed previously in this thread:
--writing experience (1 year or 2) to become a better writer.
--to learn the standard of what good writing actually entails, and what's useful and not useful in writing.
--assuming federal clerkship: to be on the receiving end of great work products from lawyers who practice in federal courts.
--to learn how to be a really good litigator, to learn how lawyers are judged by others, to learn what not to do in courts, to learn to predict how clerks and judges think.
--to learn how to use FRCP, local rules and evidence rules.
--to see how trials or oral arguments are done from the other side.
--to have a taste of power, writing for the court to decide cases--especially so early in a lawyer's legal career.
--to learn the art of judging, not just cases but people. In other words, to learn how to have good judgment.
--very helpful experience if you ever want to become a judge. Exposure to what the job actually entails.
--also prereq if you ever want to become a career clerk.

And here's something no one would tell you--not all associates are equal. If you join law firms as a post-clerk associate, your clerkship experience is valued and you'd almost always get staffed as part of the trial team. If you want to be a trial lawyer (instead of just a litigator), clerkship helps you get there.

FascinatedWanderer
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Re: Why Clerk (seriously)?

Postby FascinatedWanderer » Sat Sep 02, 2017 7:22 pm

Lol at the idea you get good work product in federal court.

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Re: Why Clerk (seriously)?

Postby Nebby » Sat Sep 02, 2017 7:27 pm

They make one more competitive for entry level PI impact lit jobs, though not necessary.

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mjb447
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Re: Why Clerk (seriously)?

Postby mjb447 » Sat Sep 02, 2017 7:40 pm

FascinatedWanderer wrote:Lol at the idea you get good work product in federal court.

So true, sadly.

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A. Nony Mouse
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Re: Why Clerk (seriously)?

Postby A. Nony Mouse » Sat Sep 02, 2017 7:45 pm

FascinatedWanderer wrote:Lol at the idea you get good work product in federal court.

Well, you do, you just don't get *a lot* of it.

OP, I think the financial issue is something only you can decide for yourself. I agree with the comments above about what you learn - you absolutely learn a ton, in a way that you're not going to be able to do anywhere else. I can't comment on what specific advantages what you learn translates to in a firm context, though. For me probably the most valuable takeaway was learning how to write really well, which is definitely valuable throughout your career if you're a litigator. (I didn't comment on that kind of thing earlier as I thought OP kind of took those benefits as given but wanted to translate them into more material terms).

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lavarman84
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Re: Why Clerk (seriously)?

Postby lavarman84 » Sat Sep 02, 2017 8:11 pm

Anonymous User wrote:Some benefits of clerkship, aside from superficial career advancement as discussed previously in this thread:
--writing experience (1 year or 2) to become a better writer.
--to learn the standard of what good writing actually entails, and what's useful and not useful in writing.
--assuming federal clerkship: to be on the receiving end of great work products from lawyers who practice in federal courts.
--to learn how to be a really good litigator, to learn how lawyers are judged by others, to learn what not to do in courts, to learn to predict how clerks and judges think.
--to learn how to use FRCP, local rules and evidence rules.
--to see how trials or oral arguments are done from the other side.
--to have a taste of power, writing for the court to decide cases--especially so early in a lawyer's legal career.
--to learn the art of judging, not just cases but people. In other words, to learn how to have good judgment.
--very helpful experience if you ever want to become a judge. Exposure to what the job actually entails.
--also prereq if you ever want to become a career clerk.

And here's something no one would tell you--not all associates are equal. If you join law firms as a post-clerk associate, your clerkship experience is valued and you'd almost always get staffed as part of the trial team. If you want to be a trial lawyer (instead of just a litigator), clerkship helps you get there.


This is one thing I forgot to mention and a great point. Although, that's at the D. Ct. I don't know about the COA.

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Re: Why Clerk (seriously)?

Postby lolwat » Sat Sep 02, 2017 8:23 pm

I would say the only downsides are money, possibly having to move around / live in less desirable locations, and the possibility of getting a judge that is difficult to work for or demand long hours. It's also practically useless if you're not going into lit.

I might be missing a few things. But beside that, i'd say it's all upside. Quality of experience, lines on resume, connections, opening the door for the future and so on

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Re: Why Clerk (seriously)?

Postby AT9 » Sat Sep 02, 2017 8:53 pm

I'll be clerking after my first year as a biglaw litigation associate (just started). It's a great practical experience and networking opportunity. Those two factors give me better short and long-term employment options, which should give me better opportunities to make lots of money later and/or find a job I truly enjoy.

It's still a "gamble," but I think it's a pretty good one depending on your goals.

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Re: Why Clerk (seriously)?

Postby wwwcol » Sat Sep 02, 2017 10:09 pm

FascinatedWanderer wrote:Lol at the idea you get good work product in federal court.


For a clerk, the low quality of litigation in federal court isn't exclusively bad; as others note, you'll learn a lot more from reading garbage motions/briefs than from excellent ones. After clerking for a while, you'll read a motion and realize counsel should've worded an argument like this or should've raised that argument. And, especially at a D. Ct., you'll learn in a lot about the mechanics of litigation as you watch lawyers commit basic procedural errors and suffer the consequences.

Also, a lot of lawyers think they know it all because they work at a V10 (and you might share that delusion). It's especially eye-opening to see underwhelming briefs from purportedly "top-tier" Biglaw firms, and it makes you realize that sometimes (often?) the highest levels of practices are outside BigLaw.

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Re: Why Clerk (seriously)?

Postby lolwat » Sat Sep 02, 2017 10:33 pm

FascinatedWanderer wrote:Lol at the idea you get good work product in federal court.


As far as this goes, just because it's federal court doesn't mean you'll necessarily see better work product, but you won't really see any worse product than at any other court either. If you want consistently good briefs and argument, well, i think scotus is basically as close as it gets...and even then you'll probably have to go thru a bunch of trash cert petitions.

As for the above post, it's still a bit interesting having clerked & being in practice that "top tier" biglaw firms IME often only do average or above-average work. Most times they get it done, so the results are there... But often enough shit work gets things done too. The "best" work I've seen seem to often come from boutiques (like 5-30 attorney ones and you'll eventually find out which ones are good after practicing in a market long enough) or litigation focused firms (like Keker, Munger, also QE as much as TLS shits on them).

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Re: Why Clerk (seriously)?

Postby Anonymous User » Sat Sep 02, 2017 11:09 pm

An SO is a great reason not to clerk. Sometimes you can't make someone up and move somewhere for a year or two. Doubly so for a family.

jd20132013
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Re: Why Clerk (seriously)?

Postby jd20132013 » Sun Sep 03, 2017 1:49 am

unless your boss sucks, clerking is an amazing, intellectually challenging, and exciting experience

big law is not.

is it worth the pay hit? not sure, but the fact that it's even a question should tell you how much better clerking is

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Re: Why Clerk (seriously)?

Postby Anonymous User » Sun Sep 03, 2017 2:10 am

Anonymous User wrote:An SO is a great reason not to clerk. Sometimes you can't make someone up and move somewhere for a year or two. Doubly so for a family.


Quoting myself, if I were single, I would 100% clerk.

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Re: Why Clerk (seriously)?

Postby BulletTooth » Sun Sep 03, 2017 9:33 am

As for the above post, it's still a bit interesting having clerked & being in practice that "top tier" biglaw firms IME often only do average or above-average work. Most times they get it done, so the results are there... But often enough shit work gets things done too. The "best" work I've seen seem to often come from boutiques (like 5-30 attorney ones and you'll eventually find out which ones are good after practicing in a market long enough) or litigation focused firms (like Keker, Munger, also QE as much as TLS shits on them).[/quote]

Can't agree with this more. I've seen some bad briefs by biglaw firms. Not ridden with typos or anything like that, but briefs that just talk past the other side's arguments or that have no logical flow. Citing cases just to cite them, even if they don't go in your favor, is also a huge problem I've seen from firms. Pretty eye-opening experience.

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Re: Why Clerk (seriously)?

Postby Nebby » Sun Sep 03, 2017 9:43 am

BulletTooth wrote:
As for the above post, it's still a bit interesting having clerked & being in practice that "top tier" biglaw firms IME often only do average or above-average work. Most times they get it done, so the results are there... But often enough shit work gets things done too. The "best" work I've seen seem to often come from boutiques (like 5-30 attorney ones and you'll eventually find out which ones are good after practicing in a market long enough) or litigation focused firms (like Keker, Munger, also QE as much as TLS shits on them).


Can't agree with this more. I've seen some bad briefs by biglaw firms. Not ridden with typos or anything like that, but briefs that just talk past the other side's arguments or that have no logical flow. Citing cases just to cite them, even if they don't go in your favor, is also a huge problem I've seen from firms. Pretty eye-opening experience.

The most lol-worthy arguments I've come across in practice have come from biglaw litigators.

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Re: Why Clerk (seriously)?

Postby EDM » Sun Sep 03, 2017 12:50 pm

BulletTooth wrote:
BulletTooth wrote:As for the above post, it's still a bit interesting having clerked & being in practice that "top tier" biglaw firms IME often only do average or above-average work. Most times they get it done, so the results are there... But often enough shit work gets things done too. The "best" work I've seen seem to often come from boutiques (like 5-30 attorney ones and you'll eventually find out which ones are good after practicing in a market long enough) or litigation focused firms (like Keker, Munger, also QE as much as TLS shits on them).


Can't agree with this more. I've seen some bad briefs by biglaw firms. Not ridden with typos or anything like that, but briefs that just talk past the other side's arguments or that have no logical flow. Citing cases just to cite them, even if they don't go in your favor, is also a huge problem I've seen from firms. Pretty eye-opening experience.


Eye-opening and also a confidence booster, knowing that you'll be able to do a better job when you litigate.

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Re: Why Clerk (seriously)?

Postby ExBiglawAssociate » Sun Sep 03, 2017 1:32 pm

All clerkships are not equally valuable. For example, if your COA clerkship is with the CAFC and you want to do patent litigation, you'd be a fool not to take it if you're a more junior attorney. CAFC clerkships for patent lit people are the most valuable clerkships out there, other than SCOTUS clerkships. If you're set on general lit, I guess there is some added prestige signalling if you clerk for a competitive feeder judge and want academic jobs, etc. If you want to practice appellate lit, any COA clerkship will have some use. Otherwise, COA clerkships are just useful for seeing how you need to tee things up at the trial level so they don't get rekt on appeal.

Off the top of my head, the most valuable aspects of my clerkships (federal d. ct. --> COA) were the following:

-learning how judges think (to the extent you can generalize from one judge to another). In particular there are certain nearly universal practices among district judges in busy districts as to how motions in limine are routinely denied, for example, for "going to the weight rather than the admissibility of the evidence"; how summary judgment is or is not more likely to be granted in your district compared to others; how the mechanics of trial work with sidebars, jury instructions, etc. At the appellate level, understanding the impact of standards of review (abuse of discretion, etc.) on particular issues made me realize how vital it is to get those discretionary rulings to come out in your favor in d. ct. Also, it just gave me confidence seeing how poorly written some of the briefs were, even at the appellate level, which I think is valuable in and of itself when you go back to a firm and interact with partners who act like they are God and know everything

-seeing how little time judges actually have to spend on stuff and how things like the vast majority of depositions really don't end up mattering. When I first encountered a case where depo testimony contradicted testimony at trial, I was shocked to see how little weight was given to it because I guess there's a general understanding that people don't always remember stuff or whatever. Anyway, my experience at a firm taught me that people who haven't clerked generally take things waaaaaaaay too seriously, especially depositions, sometimes objecting to everything, etc. No one gives a shit about your stupid objections, for the most part. Focusing on the overall strategy of the litigation is the most important thing

-learning what DOES matter, i.e., for my judges, WAIVER. You need to make sure you preserve everything you need to throughout all stages of litigation. It's useful to internalize the consequences of what happens when parties don't

Other than the above, I think it was a really cool/fun job, but that really depends on the judge(s) you clerk for. I would do it over again if I could, even though it ended up being about 2.5 years of clerking for me and a big ding on my finances. You only live once, and clerking for a nice judge who actually lets you learn some useful stuff is something I wouldn't want to pass up

A final note: I have heard clients remark on how "so and so clerked for court X and judge Y and, therefore, must know a lot about Z." This may only apply to clerkships in districts or COAs that see a lot of a particular type of case, but those things matter for litigation. Make no mistake about it, you will definitely get noticed more often if you have a useful clerkship on your firm bio




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