Looking for specific info on the work clerks are doing

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Clerk.Work

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Looking for specific info on the work clerks are doing

Postby Clerk.Work » Wed Sep 12, 2018 2:58 am

Where can I find specific information on the work a particular clerk is doing for the judge that they work for? For example, if I had the clerk's name, how can I find a description of the work that that clerk is doing?

Also, where can I find information on the kind of cases judges handle?

BlackAndOrange84

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Re: Looking for specific info on the work clerks are doing

Postby BlackAndOrange84 » Wed Sep 12, 2018 9:35 am

For your first question, you can't. The way any judge uses his or her clerks is generally not public. In broad strokes though, most judges use their clerks to help them prepare for hearings or trial and to draft opinions. But some judges draft their own opinions and judges have even been known just to use clerks for occasional research and to bounce ideas off of (Posner was famous in this regard). The only way to really get a read on this is to talk to a former clerk.

A judge's docket is usually dependent on the district or circuit in which he sits. Westlaw I think has some interesting tools that analyze the types of cases coming through a district or circuit docket. Cases are to be assigned randomly to sitting judges (though there are circuits and judges where folks suspect that assignments are not always random), so in theory there shouldn't be too much variation among judges within a district or circuit (in other words, if you can figure out the mix of cases for a district or circuit, you'll have a good idea what the judges in that jurisdiction do). That said, in broad strokes, the federal docket is large parts federal criminal prosecutions (drug trafficking, felon-in-possession, and child porn, with other federal crimes sprinkled in), § 1983 civil rights cases (suits against state and local cops for constitutional violations), other civil cases (which can vary greatly from circuit to circuit and district to district), diversity cases, a smattering of admin law (some circuits get more of this, the DC Circuit especially, but also circuits in the West where there is a lot of federal land, though not as much as DC), immigration cases (the extent of which can depend on whether you have a border state in your district or circuit), diversity cases, and habeas cases from federal and state courts. The DC circuit (and the district court) is kind of sui generis because it gets so much more admin than everybody else along with other litigation related to the federal government, and there's relatively few criminal and diversity cases coming through because of the geographically small circuit. If you want more specific information, in addition to Westlaw, the Administrative Office of the Courts publishes some circuit by circuit statistics of case type, and the best source of information is probably former clerks.

Clerk.Work

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Re: Looking for specific info on the work clerks are doing

Postby Clerk.Work » Fri Sep 14, 2018 5:52 am

Thank you for your very informative answer. I kind of figured that it would be hard to find out what clerks do for their bosses (judges). I've done a fair amount of research on the matter and couldn't find anything. Also, as you may have already guessed, I don't have a law degree.

A little background on why I ask these questions. I run a company called LegallyLooking.com. I offer a service that monitors law firm websites on a regular basis for changes to their attorney bios and lateral jobs. I collect those bios and jobs and put them into a searchable database. I also email updates to users so that they do not have to continually log in and check for changes. My clients are mainly legal recruiters. I've been in business since 2005 although I recently remade and relaunched the site.

Earlier this year I was made aware of a certain unfulfilled need that law firms have. Basically, they want to keep track of judicial clerks in order to persuade them to come to the firm after their clerkship is up. To that end, I recently launched Clerk.Work. It's in a very early alpha stage. I'm lucky enough to be in communication with the head of lateral attorney recruiting for an AmLaw 200 firm. This contact is helping to steer the design of the site because their in-depth knowledge of what the firms want to know about clerks.

One of those things is what clerks do for the judges they work for, thus my post. In the near future, the plan is to get that information from clerks by asking them to fill out a very simple form that will allow them to give a brief description of their job duties. This would lead to the creation of a profile on the site which they can add to if they'd like. Would you happen to have any suggestions on the best way to go about contacting clerks en masse? I'm thinking a small, targeted marketing campaign on LinkedIn and possibly posting an ad on TLS and maybe a few other sites. The firms are only interested in clerks from certain courts so the pool shouldn't be too large. In the long run the site could also be used by judges to post jobs, similar to OSCAR, but that would require critical mass as far as getting clerks onboard.

Again, I'd really like to know your thoughts on contacting clerks. I've made a lot mistakes with LegallyLooking.com and I would rather not repeat them with Clerk.Work. Thanks again for your help.

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Re: Looking for specific info on the work clerks are doing

Postby Barrred » Fri Sep 14, 2018 5:30 pm

Prepare to get a lot of hate on your idea, as its pretty clear you don't have a good understanding of how clerkships work. You should probably bring in a former clerk to consult if you are serious about this idea.

Two observations:
(1) The duties of a law clerk on a particular court (e.g., the Ninth Circuit) are so uniform that there is really no point in asking clerks to fill out job descriptions, as every one would be nearly identical. Compounding this is the fact that clerks are far more tight-lipped/vague about specifically what they did during their clerkship than most other jobs, because the work is confidential and judges take that very seriously. For instance, you wont get a clerk writing a job description that says "Wrote published opinion in an employment class action appeal," that would be taboo. Clerks stick to vague descriptions of their caseloads for that reason.

(2) LinkedIn is probably the best place to create a list of current law clerks and contact them, though I imagine you will have an extremely hard time getting adoption of your site, as clerks in the competitive courts/circuits that your clients are interested in generally have a relatively easy time finding post-clerkship employment, and have no incentive to create a profile on your site.

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mjb447

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Re: Looking for specific info on the work clerks are doing

Postby mjb447 » Fri Sep 14, 2018 6:07 pm

Many courts and judges also restrict the online presence that current clerks can have; it's almost always not appropriate to associate yourself with a particular judge, and some courts don't let you identify yourself as working for a particular court or as a court employee at all. That is to say, even LinkedIn is going to be pretty incomplete.

(And Barrred is right - if you asked me to describe the job duties associated with my clerkships, I'd only be willing to go about as specific as the 'broad strokes' take he gave concerning the general work of the courts plus vague job duty stuff like "assisted with drafting opinions/orders/whatever." The judiciary goes to great lengths to ensure that, in general, only the judges who wrote or joined an opinion are associated with drafting it.)

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Re: Looking for specific info on the work clerks are doing

Postby Anonymous User » Fri Sep 14, 2018 6:08 pm

Barrred wrote:(1) The duties of a law clerk on a particular court (e.g., the Ninth Circuit) are so uniform that there is really no point in asking clerks to fill out job descriptions, as every one would be nearly identical. Compounding this is the fact that clerks are far more tight-lipped/vague about specifically what they did during their clerkship than most other jobs, because the work is confidential and judges take that very seriously. For instance, you wont get a clerk writing a job description that says "Wrote published opinion in an employment class action appeal," that would be taboo. Clerks stick to vague descriptions of their caseloads for that reason.


Echoing this. OP, the federal judicial oath every federal law clerk takes on their first day binds them not to speak about the specific cases they worked on or the internal discussions had between judges, deputies, clerks, etc. It's an ongoing duty after the clerkship concludes. That's why you'll never get a SCOTUS clerk to comment on whether they worked on a specific landmark case. You will be hard-pressed to find any clerk who will pull back the curtain on any specifics of their job beyond maybe saying "yeah I worked on some ERISA matters" or the like. Clerks, even the ones who abhorred their experience, will give generalities about the scope of their duties and say positive things about their judge. This has indirectly fed the mystique of serving as a federal clerk, but has also created problems with reporting abusive workplace conduct.

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Re: Looking for specific info on the work clerks are doing

Postby BlackAndOrange84 » Fri Sep 14, 2018 7:22 pm

Second all the comments above re: confidentiality. You're going to have a hard time with that. And Linkedin probably won't be too helpful, as many (most?) clerks don't publicize their clerkships until their service is done. There is an online leadership directory my law school had access to while I was there that stayed pretty up to date on the names and judiciary emails of the clerks for most judges. Can't remember which one now.

And do firms actually have difficulty reaching clerks? The recruiting letters we got seemed to me to do their job.

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Re: Looking for specific info on the work clerks are doing

Postby nixy » Fri Sep 14, 2018 7:59 pm

I'm kind of confused by the whole proposition, because there's no real mystery about what clerks do for their judges - they research the legal issues that arise in the cases before the judge and draft various forms of writing from that research (bench memos, orders, opinions). Of course different judges will give clerks more or less guidance/freedom and some judges/dockets see more of particular kinds of cases than others. But I wouldn't think firms are particularly in the dark about what clerks do, and it seems to me the number of firms that are really interested in distinguishing between clerks who did certain kinds of work and those who did other kinds of work has got to be pretty small.

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Re: Looking for specific info on the work clerks are doing

Postby BlackAndOrange84 » Fri Sep 14, 2018 8:26 pm

nixy wrote:I'm kind of confused by the whole proposition, because there's no real mystery about what clerks do for their judges - they research the legal issues that arise in the cases before the judge and draft various forms of writing from that research (bench memos, orders, opinions). Of course different judges will give clerks more or less guidance/freedom and some judges/dockets see more of particular kinds of cases than others. But I wouldn't think firms are particularly in the dark about what clerks do, and it seems to me the number of firms that are really interested in distinguishing between clerks who did certain kinds of work and those who did other kinds of work has got to be pretty small.


This seems right. The only situations I can imagine it mattering in is judges in the patent pilot program or who otherwise have an IP-heavy docket and dedicate one clerk to it. But it ought to generally be easy to figure out who those folks are as they'll generally have a background that says IP.

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mjb447

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Re: Looking for specific info on the work clerks are doing

Postby mjb447 » Fri Sep 14, 2018 8:37 pm

nixy wrote:I'm kind of confused by the whole proposition, because there's no real mystery about what clerks do for their judges - they research the legal issues that arise in the cases before the judge and draft various forms of writing from that research (bench memos, orders, opinions). Of course different judges will give clerks more or less guidance/freedom and some judges/dockets see more of particular kinds of cases than others. But I wouldn't think firms are particularly in the dark about what clerks do, and it seems to me the number of firms that are really interested in distinguishing between clerks who did certain kinds of work and those who did other kinds of work has got to be pretty small.

Also true, especially if the firms OP is working with already have their focus narrowed to particular courts. I’ve even heard it suggested that, if you need to save space on a resume, you might omit a job description of a clerkship because everyone knows what they entail.

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Pneumonia

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Re: Looking for specific info on the work clerks are doing

Postby Pneumonia » Fri Sep 14, 2018 9:33 pm

Clerks all do the same thing. What kind of differences in "the work clerks are doing" are you talking about? Also, getting any current federal clerk to join your site and post anything beyond "Clerk at the U.S. CoA for the 4th Circuit" will be extremely difficult. Probably impossible.

Why do you think clerks are so vague on LinkedIn? Do you think it's because they're unaware that, by being more specific, they could be better recruited by firms? Of course not. Your lateral site adds value by actively monitoring, emailing, etc. But the lack of info about what clerks are doing (and the judges they work for) is very much an intentional gap in the market. It might be a workable idea to make a site that allowed employers who want to hire clerks to post semi-anonymized openings. But asking recent grads--almost all of whom already have jobs lined up, are under strict confidentiality rules, and don't want to get on their judge's bad side--to sign up for a site that exists to make life easier for recruiters sounds like a losing proposition.

At root, what information would your new site provide that LinkedIn doesn't? People can already put info about their job responsibilities on there if they so choose...

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Re: Looking for specific info on the work clerks are doing

Postby Anonymous User » Fri Sep 14, 2018 11:24 pm

Pneumonia wrote:Clerks all do the same thing. What kind of differences in "the work clerks are doing" are you talking about?


Quite honestly, I think the OP is ultimately trying to identify whether particular clerks develop expertise in specific areas - meaning that only specific cases are funneled their way. That approach misunderstands 1) the varied nature of a typical district and appellate court docket and 2) assumes that judges divide their dockets between clerks by topic area. Not the case at all. Most dockets are divided odds/evens or more rarely between a civil clerk and a criminal clerk each of whom may take on an additional area(s) like securities. Sometimes a judge will hire a clerk with a patent background to help with that docket in addition to civil work. The only other differentiation would be on the individual district or circuit level. One could reasonably assume a clerk from EDTX has some exposure to patent work or the a DDC/DC Cir. clerk has exposure to admin agency work. Beyond that there's no real difference district to district or circuit to circuit.

From a firm standpoint, the purposes behind clerk hiring are access and prestige and not area expertise or at least I thought so - so I don't really understand OP's spin on clerk recruitment. The more clerks you have from appellate and district courts the more chances the firm has to be able to gain an "inside track" on how a judge might lean on a specific motion, etc. For elite lit. boutiques and small appellate practices in larger firms, this approach is more critical if that firm's practice is nationwide and helps stay a step ahead of competitors. Former clerks are also a stronger selling point to clients and, I guess, incoming associates as a prestige marker to say that the firm knows their stuff and has highly skilled attorneys working there - whether that's actually true on the ground is debatable. But it's not about the subject matter expertise that the clerk brings from the clerkship. The firm practice group ideally should provide that.



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