Goal IX Newsletter
Spring 2001, Volume 7, Number 2
Spring 2001, Volume 7, Number 2
For some time, the National Conference of Federal Trial Judges has been discussing ways to increase the number of African Americans and other minorities applying for judicial clerkships. An invitation to participate in the Minority Judicial Clerkship Program at the ABA Midyear Meeting in San Diego therefore caught my attention. Apparently, the ABA Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession and the ABA Judicial Division had already done all of the work. All I had to do was show up. I am pleased that I did, because it was the most rewarding event of my trip to San Diego.
Several law schools (Duke, Cornell, University of Michigan, University of Texas, and University of New Mexico) sent several minority law students to San Diego for "structured networking" with approximately 15 state and federal judges. LEXIS-NEXIS loaned multiple computer stations so that teams of law students could research issues raised in a hypothetical set of facts and then draft a bench memo that would be critiqued and judged. The idea was to allow students to demonstrate their knowledge and skill in a small group setting while interacting with judges in a team-building project. What the seven law students that I worked with wanted most was very practical information: how a clerkship would help their career, what law clerks do, how to obtain a clerkship. I was most eager to share with the participants how my own two-year clerkship for a U.S. district judge was the most important part of my legal education, and how it was critical to my career. I spent two hours answering questions on why they should be law clerks and on the nuts and bolts and do's and don'ts of applying for clerkships. For example, I shared with them some of the questions I typically ask when interviewing prospective law clerks and discussed the qualities most judges are looking for. The law students were enormously appreciative, and I knew that I had spent those two hours wisely.
Not having received the case materials in advance of the seminar, I used my lack of familiarity with the case to simulate real-life preparation for a hearing. When I returned for the afternoon session, my "law clerks" briefed me on the facts and the law of the "pending" hypothetical case and recommended a disposition. I asked questions of my "clerks" just as I normally do in preparing to resolve similar issues in my court. The students learned firsthand what law clerks do and how such work can hone their skills for later careers. The law students also enjoyed talking with judges at a Judicial Division breakfast and cocktail reception.
Ironically, I may have learned more from my law students than they learned from me. I now know that there is a tremendous demand among top law firms for sharp minority graduates who are in the top half of their class at good law schools. Many minority law students are saddled with significant debt-sometimes $100,000 or more-as they enter practice, which they want to pay off promptly. They wonder why they should opt for a law clerk's salary and turndown the larger salaries and bonuses now being offered to many first-year associates (which in some cities exceed the salaries of veteran U.S. circuit judges). Also, I learned that some minority law students may not believe that the clerkship door is open to them. Others have no way to measure the value of a mentor-particularly a judicial mentor-giving hands-on instruction early in their careers. Best of all for me, I learned how rewarding it was to share my excitement and experience regarding judicial clerkships with minority law students who wanted answers.
James G. Glazebrook is a U.S. magistrate judge in the Orlando Division of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida.
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