How to best prepare for a clerkship?

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I'm_All_In

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How to best prepare for a clerkship?

Postby I'm_All_In » Tue Mar 06, 2018 11:23 am

Does anyone have any recommendations on resources to read/know before starting a federal clerkship? I'm compiling a reading list in no real order of importance and hoping for some feedback on what former/current clerks wished they brushed up before beginning a very intensive experience where one may not have as much free time. Also, I'd greatly appreciate any particular books on legal writing.

(1) Bluebook or the Redbook;
(2) the court's local rules;
(3) Handbook for Law Clerks to Federal Judges published by the Federal Judicial Center;
(4) skimming Major/Published opinions from that Circuit court from the last year or two; and
(5) Federal Rules of Evidence Manual (obviously cannot read the entire book, but important sections, like FRCP 12 and 56).

On the other hand, would it simply be a better use of your time to read that particular judge's opinions and try to adopt his or her writing style? Thanks guys.

minnbills

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Re: How to best prepare for a clerkship?

Postby minnbills » Tue Mar 06, 2018 12:18 pm

If you'll be clerking for a specialty court (i.e. tax, bankruptcy) then you should obviously read up on the applicable law. If you are clerking for any trial court, you should really take a look at the local rules and procedural rules. You may want to reach out to one of your judge's former clerks to get this advice too. Some judges will expect you to handle some administrative duties like managing the calendar, in which case you will definitely want to brush up on procedural rules.

Honestly, though, your main focus should be going in fresh. Especially if you are going right into a clerkship after law school, it's important that you take a trip somewhere or unwind a lot. You may not get another chance until retirement. (I took a two week trip to Europe and it was the best thing I've ever done.)

I wouldn't sweat the prep too much though. Unless you've already been told what kind of cases you'll be working on, you are not going to know exactly what you'll be working until you actually hit the ground. I don't think there's a whole lotta use in spinning your wheels here.

Quichelorraine

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Re: How to best prepare for a clerkship?

Postby Quichelorraine » Wed Mar 07, 2018 1:17 am

Recommendations would depend on a) what kind of judge you're talking about and b) whether you've had prior practice experience or will be floating in directly from school.

If you're right out of law school and working for a District Judge: for the love of god, don't read the Bluebook (it's a *reference*, not a source of knowledge, and most DJs are in the "good enough" camp). Actually, I think your last pick is the most important (you said "evidence" but it's clear you mean Civil Procedure). Knowing the relevant Rule 12 and 56 standards is very helpful. Ditto with defaults, arb confirms, preliminary injunctions, and other stuff that comes up over and over. Only if you know you're going to be dumped right into a trial would I recommend focusing overmuch on evidence and the like (and, unless your arrangement is very unusual, you won't necessarily have input on moment-to-moment issues at trial anyway).

Otherwise, reading your judge's opinions is a great idea. I know this'll sound strange, but consider pulling them off of PACER (using the free Written Opinions report)/Courtlistener rather than Lexis/West. You'll get a better sense of formatting and so on without the Westlaw homogenizing effect.

Circuit? Know standards of review, for sure, and definitely read your Circuit's rules/internal operating procedures (these tend to be more readable as "guiding documents" for Courts of Appeals).

CurvedSurface

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Re: How to best prepare for a clerkship?

Postby CurvedSurface » Wed Mar 07, 2018 3:17 am

I graduated last May and started clerking for a judge on a state court in August. My take: Read something that you enjoy, something that jives with your personality, something that makes you a more interesting human. Do that because (1) you'll be happy because it's something that you enjoy, (2) it will be refreshing because so much of your life to this point has been consumed with must-do things for law school and job applications, and (3) your judge and co-clerk will appreciate your being well-rounded more than they would appreciate whatever writing tidbits and legal minutiae you might pick up in this cramming-like experience that you're considering.

If you're still nervous and want to split the difference, read a good biography about a Supreme Court justice or a historic big-deal lawyer from the area where you will be clerking. Or read about American history and the various ways in which the government has disregarded individuals' civil rights. Please do not read the local rules.

TL/DR The judge hired you because the judge has confidence in you. You don't need to do anything extra to prep for your clerkship; you've done it all already. Just relax.

ExperssioUnius

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Re: How to best prepare for a clerkship?

Postby ExperssioUnius » Wed Mar 07, 2018 4:21 am

I'd recommend at least looking over a few of the judge's opinions on common legal topics that the judge deals with (if district court-- Rule 12(b)(6), Rule 56, social security cases, criminal motions, other pretrial motions) to determine the format and organizational framework your judge will expect you to employ when drafting an opinion. Most judge's have a pretty set format for how they approach the opinions the publish and knowing the format, what you need to touch upon, and in what order will clue you into what information you need to look for when reading the briefs. For example, some judges always include a jurisdictional section. While judge's sometimes let clerks impart a bit of their own writing style into opinions, they tend to be less flexible regarding the general structure of the opinion.

Separately, if you're going to district court and your judge does do social security, start reading up on the basic terminology and review process for that area of the law because it is quite different than most things you've probably seen in law school.

Quichelorraine

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Re: How to best prepare for a clerkship?

Postby Quichelorraine » Wed Mar 07, 2018 2:43 pm

CurvedSurface wrote: Please do not read the local rules.

TL/DR The judge hired you because the judge has confidence in you. You don't need to do anything extra to prep for your clerkship; you've done it all already. Just relax.



Having re-read my comment above, I want to add that I completely agree with CurvedSurface: you certainly don't need to prep. And with regard to Local Rules, absolutely, don't read them...but some of the Courts of Appeals have something akin to "internal operating procedures" that are often a fun little "here's how we work" manual that can be enlightening.

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Redamon1

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Re: How to best prepare for a clerkship?

Postby Redamon1 » Sun Apr 15, 2018 8:33 pm

Bump. Any tips and dos/donts to make the clerkship year successful and/or less stressful? Appreciate the advice.

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Redamon1

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Re: How to best prepare for a clerkship?

Postby Redamon1 » Sun Apr 15, 2018 8:35 pm

More generally, any tips and dos/donts to make the clerkship year successful and/or less stressful? Thanks.

ExperssioUnius

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Re: How to best prepare for a clerkship?

Postby ExperssioUnius » Sun Apr 15, 2018 9:20 pm

(1) Build a strong relationship with the JA in your chambers. A JA can really help orient you and, in some chambers, plays a big role in the flow of work. While clerks cycle in and out every year, the JA in chambers likely has been there for years and has a ton of institutional knowledge on how things work and what your judge likes.

(2) Expect everything to take longer than you'd expect to complete in your first few months

(3) If you are in federal district court, learn early on how to run a CM/ECF report so you know what is pending before your court and what you are responsible for. In district court, for cases not scheduled for trial sooner, orders on motions are "due" in March and September. In many chambers, the judge will leave it to you to manage your cases and get all of your orders completed before any become "overdue." Judge's will often leave it to clerks to notify the judge about new submissions/motions in cases. Thus, learning how to run various CM/ECF reports, tracking your cases, and coming up with a plan to get all of your orders completed over the six month period is important.

(4) Always write once and edit four times.

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Re: How to best prepare for a clerkship?

Postby Anonymous User » Mon Apr 16, 2018 12:24 pm

ExperssioUnius wrote:(1) Build a strong relationship with the JA in your chambers. A JA can really help orient you and, in some chambers, plays a big role in the flow of work. While clerks cycle in and out every year, the JA in chambers likely has been there for years and has a ton of institutional knowledge on how things work and what your judge likes.

(2) Expect everything to take longer than you'd expect to complete in your first few months

(3) If you are in federal district court, learn early on how to run a CM/ECF report so you know what is pending before your court and what you are responsible for. In district court, for cases not scheduled for trial sooner, orders on motions are "due" in March and September. In many chambers, the judge will leave it to you to manage your cases and get all of your orders completed before any become "overdue." Judge's will often leave it to clerks to notify the judge about new submissions/motions in cases. Thus, learning how to run various CM/ECF reports, tracking your cases, and coming up with a plan to get all of your orders completed over the six month period is important.

(4) Always write once and edit four times.


FYI, workflow will differ tremendously depending on your judge and your district court's approach to submitting motions (and, in particular, whether motions are calendared for oral argument as a default and whether there is a dedicated day for motion hearings every week or two weeks). In my chambers, the rule was that you had to get a polished draft to the judge 2 or 3 days before the motion was scheduled for a hearing, and we generally issued draft orders within a few days of the hearing. My judge would have lost his or her shit if we didn't issue an order on a motion 2 weeks after it was submitted; God forbid if you got anywhere close to the six month list.

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Re: How to best prepare for a clerkship?

Postby Anonymous User » Mon Apr 16, 2018 12:48 pm

FYI, workflow will differ tremendously depending on your judge and your district court's approach to submitting motions (and, in particular, whether motions are calendared for oral argument as a default and whether there is a dedicated day for motion hearings every week or two weeks). In my chambers, the rule was that you had to get a polished draft to the judge 2 or 3 days before the motion was scheduled for a hearing, and we generally issued draft orders within a few days of the hearing. My judge would have lost his or her shit if we didn't issue an order on a motion 2 weeks after it was submitted; God forbid if you got anywhere close to the six month list.


My informal/anecdata-y survey of the clerks in my home district court suggested that this was the exception more than the rule, unfortunately. Many chambers plan around the CJRA list.

As for advice-to-new-clerks, definitely check out Matt Stiegler's take at http://ca3blog.com/judges/advice-for-ne ... it-clerks/. It's geared towards Circuit clerks, but much of the wisdom applies to clerkships in general.

In particular: in addition to being friends with the JA/courtroom deputy/other permanent staff (extending to the CSOs in the building; seriously, be nice to them!), try not to fight with your co-clerks. This is easier said than done. You will be spending at least a year in close proximity with someone roughly your age who has habits that will drive. you. nuts. Consider it a crash course in learning to smile and nod at basically anything. Nothing turns a clerkship toxic faster than being on the skids with coworkers.

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Re: How to best prepare for a clerkship?

Postby Anonymous User » Fri Apr 20, 2018 5:11 pm

Redamon1 wrote:More generally, any tips and dos/donts to make the clerkship year successful and/or less stressful? Thanks.



Do: be nice/friendly to everyone in your chambers. Federal district court clerk here, and the experience this year has been much better since I'm on good terms with the clerk's office, court reporters, courtroom deputy, security officers, etc. Especially the clerk's office, since they know how to do 75% of your job and can be invaluable resources.

Do: ask questions to the other clerks and bounce ideas off each other. you all aren't billing hours so there's no mad rush to get everything done. and no one is trying to make partner. Develop the most personal relationship possible with the judge. It will make the year awesome - going out for lunch, shooting the sh*t about sports or movies or whatever your judge is into can really make for a fun experience.

Do: pay attention to what arguments from attorneys work and which ones do not. Your judge will absolutely hate some of the BS that attorneys file. When you go out into practice it will be super helpful to know what will be persuasive writing and what writing clerks will roll their eyes at.

Don't: work 70 hours a week unless you have a trial or something. More than enough time to bill 2500 hours when you're in private practice. Enjoy the government hours while you can. But make sure you're there when your Judge is.

Don't: ask your judge trivial questions frequently -- that's what bouncing ideas off your co-clerks is for. they're in the same boat, and asking them something incredibly dumb will roll off easier than asking your boss.

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bruinfan10

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Re: How to best prepare for a clerkship?

Postby bruinfan10 » Tue Apr 24, 2018 6:10 pm

I highly recommend intensive study of Bryan Garner's Elements of Legal Style and also recommend Judge Aldisert's book "Opinion Writing." And I was a very fancy clerk, you can trust me lol. Miss those days.

Lysander26

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Re: How to best prepare for a clerkship?

Postby Lysander26 » Thu Jun 14, 2018 4:29 pm

I'm a COA clerk. My advice would be to read these two law review articles:

Pierre N. Leval, Judging Under the Constitution: Dicta About Dicta, 81 N.Y.U. L. Rev. 1249, 1275 (2006) (how to distinguish dicta from a holding; its actually pretty complicated)
Jonathan F.Mitchell, The Writ-of-Erasure Fallacy, 104 Virginia L. Rev. (Forthcoming 2018) Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3158038

I'd also buy for reference:
Fowler's Modern English Usage (2d ed. Sir Ernest Gowers)
A. Scalia & B. Garner, Reading Law
B. Garner et al., The Law of Precedent. I've consulted these books many times over the course of my clerkship.



I'm_All_In wrote:Does anyone have any recommendations on resources to read/know before starting a federal clerkship? I'm compiling a reading list in no real order of importance and hoping for some feedback on what former/current clerks wished they brushed up before beginning a very intensive experience where one may not have as much free time. Also, I'd greatly appreciate any particular books on legal writing.

(1) Bluebook or the Redbook;
(2) the court's local rules;
(3) Handbook for Law Clerks to Federal Judges published by the Federal Judicial Center;
(4) skimming Major/Published opinions from that Circuit court from the last year or two; and
(5) Federal Rules of Evidence Manual (obviously cannot read the entire book, but important sections, like FRCP 12 and 56).

On the other hand, would it simply be a better use of your time to read that particular judge's opinions and try to adopt his or her writing style? Thanks guys.



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