A Great Summer Opportunity: Judicial Clerkships
Many law students enter law school knowing exactly what it is they want to do, while others have no clue. One way to figure out what type of law you may want to practice is to try to get a job during the summer in your practice area of interest. However, many law students find it difficult to obtain their dream job after their first year of law school. Many second-year students have found work, and employers prefer to hire students with more experience. A great untapped source of summer employment for many first- and second-year students can be found in judicial clerkships.
When I began law school a couple of years ago, I had my mind made up that I wanted to become a prosecutor. I worked for the United States attorney’s office in my hometown while I was in college, and I found the work to be very exciting. I worked in the criminal section of the office and was involved in complex cases from the beginning of the investigative process until adjudication. The real-life experiences of seeing a case after it was indicted, becoming involved in listening to wiretaps and raids on homes, and hunting for international fugitives added to the excitement I felt upon entering the legal profession. I was ninety-nine percent sure I wanted to become a prosecutor.
After entering law school, becoming an officer in the Mercer Association of Prosecutors, and attending several events where prosecutors spoke to our group, I was still enthusiastic about prosecuting. As that first semester passed, I began thinking about what I wanted to do regarding a summer job. I thought about interning for a district attorney’s office or interning in Washington, D.C., on Capitol Hill for the House Judiciary Committee. A few months later a third option manifested. At a party for my mother, one of my parents’ friends asked me if I would like to work for him that summer. He is a superior court judge in my hometown of Savannah, Georgia. I let him know that I would consider it.
As the spring semester came to a close I decided to take the judge up on his offer. I figured I would be able to earn some valuable experience, see some friends who were also home for the summer, and save money by staying with my parents.
My first day on the job was uneventful. It was basically the same as the first time you enter any situation where you don’t know anyone. I was the new guy, but the judge’s assistant made me feel welcome right away. The judge was on the bench when I arrived, and his staff attorney was in her office. When I met the judge’s staff attorney, I began to feel even more comfortable about my summer internship. She had recently graduated from my law school, and that fact provided a basis for us to get to know each other.
After the judge got off the bench, I went to his chambers to talk with him. Our conversation focused on my first year of law school. He then took me around to meet the other superior, state, and magistrate court judges. I spent a few minutes speaking with each judge before heading back to my judge’s chamber. After a few minutes I returned to the staff attorney’s office to receive my first assignment. It was a property case involving a building in downtown Savannah. I had hated property class during my first semester and was not very excited about receiving a property case. However, I was pleasantly surprised that I was able to answer all the issues asked of me, and I actually enjoyed researching property law.
I continued to receive civil assignments every few days. In addition to working on civil cases, I was sitting in court to watch criminal, domestic, and a range of civil hearings. I also was able to sit in on hearings in chambers in several cases. I thoroughly enjoyed being able to sit in on different cases, and also being able to participate when the judge and his staff attorney would bounce around ideas. This really made me feel as though I was a part of the team.
As the summer went on I was continually given more responsibility on cases. I eventually was given a case in which a decision had to be made as to whether a summary judgment motion should be granted. It was a civil case with three claims. The first claim was for breach of employment contract, the second was for tortious interference with business relations, and the third was for slander. I spent a lot of time conducting research on the case, and, prior to finalizing the order, the judge set the case down for oral argument. This was also an interesting experience.
Following the oral argument I completed the order and came to the conclusion that summary judgment should be granted on all three claims. The judge’s staff attorney reviewed my work, agreed with my conclusions, and pointed out some minor grammatical and stylistic corrections. Following the corrections, I presented the order to the judge. He also pointed out some stylistic changes, but agreed with the conclusion of the order. The following April the Georgia Court of Appeals affirmed my order.
My experience clerking for a trial court judge really changed my opinion of a civil practice. I had never done any work in civil law, and I unexpectedly worked on civil cases all summer and loved it. Each case I worked on that summer was very different. While I was still exposed to criminal law, I dealt with civil matters in a more in-depth manner. I no longer felt as though I was tied to criminal law as a future practice area. When I headed back to school that August and began thinking about work for the next summer, I sent out resumes to several civil firms in Savannah.
Not only did my work with the judge add to my resume, but it also became a great conversation topic in my interviews. Due to my work with a judge in the same city I planned to work, I definitely increased my chances of obtaining a position at these firms for the summer. I learned several times while at call-back interviews that the judge’s staff attorney had personally called to firms I was interviewing with in order to provide her recommendation. After several interviews I had the opportunity to split the next summer with several great law firms, and I decided upon two firms to work at the following summer. I subsequently accepted an offer from one of those firms for an associate position after law school.
My work with the judge not only provided me with great experience and a great reference on my resume, but also allowed me to meet great friends. I still keep in touch with all of the superior court staff attorneys and the judge I worked for. I know all the judges in the city I will practice in. These are invaluable resources to know personally, and will certainly be beneficial in my practice. I recommend that any law student looking for summer work definitely consider working for a judge.
Quentin Marlin is a 2007 graduate of Mercer University School of Law. While at Mercer, Quentin served on the Student Bar Association as a Second and Third Year Representative, American Bar Association Liaison to GP|Solo, and Treasurer of the Christian Legal Society for two years. Quentin obtained valuable work experience during his summers at Mercer, clerking for a superior court judge his first year and splitting his second summer with two law firms. Quentin will be returning to one of those firms, Ellis, Painter, Ratterree & Adams LLP, to begin his legal career. In his free time Quentin enjoys flying small aircraft and playing sports.