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July 01, 2022 Feature

ABA Judicial Clerkship Program: A Stepping Stone to Success

By Agnieszka M. Gaertner

Year 2020 marked the 20th anniversary of the ABA Judicial Clerkship Program (JCP). The JCP is a conference and workshop for students from various U.S. law schools, conveniently taking place during the ABA Midyear Meeting. As part of this conference, judges get together to teach and mentor new generations of future lawyers. In 2020, I had the honor and pleasure to participate in this program with other students. Two years later, I could not be more grateful and humbled by the opportunities instituted by the JCP. I would like to highlight some of the benefits of this program and encourage everyone to participate as a mentor or mentee.

Over the course of a few days, JCP students work with judges on various assignments, attend speeches, and work out the recruitment process for clerkships. Furthermore, they participate in the ABA receptions and galas, where they meet attorneys and learn about the work of various organizations and committees. Seasoned attorneys also share their insights into different areas of legal practice. These receptions are a great avenue for networking and becoming involved in important projects while still in law school.

During the JCP, students have the opportunity to establish long-lasting relationships. I had the fortune to meet the Honorable Linda Strite Murnane (U.S. Air Force Col., Ret.), who has closely guided me professionally and personally since the JCP. I also had the opportunity to work with the Honorable Meredith D. Drent, associate judge on the Puyallup Tribal Court in Tacoma, Washington, and the Honorable James G. Gilbert, chief administrative law judge for the U.S. Postal Service in Washington, D.C. Judges devoted their full attention to mentoring us and shared invaluable advice. Even after the program ended, they offered their continued help and support.

My experience in the program inspired me to embark on the clerkship journey after I graduated from law school. Thanks to the JCP, I already had a good understanding of what the work would entail and what judges would expect from their law clerks. Upon graduating from the University of Iowa College of Law, I successfully landed a clerkship position on the Superior Court in Fairbanks, Alaska. Most of my peers who attended the JCP also began clerking in state and federal courts. I worked for the Honorable Michael P. McConahy until his retirement and subsequently for the Honorable Patricia L. Haines. Before my new judge took office, I also assisted Fairbanks district court judges. This one-year position by far exceeded my expectations. I worked closely with my judges and shadowed them in their everyday role. I was involved in most cases on their docket, doing legal research and drafting opinions. Most importantly, however, the judges shared with me their insight, reasoning, and values. They were also wonderful and supportive mentors, for which I will be forever grateful.

Before I started clerking, I was not convinced I wanted to pursue litigation. I struggled with research and writing, and the rules of evidence seemed like a different universe. However, I remembered the great mentorship and encouragement I received during the JCP. I decided to grab the bull by the horns and master those skills that were most difficult for me. Thanks to clerking, I realized I enjoy the constant learning process, and in litigation, it never ends. There is always something new to learn and improve.

The JCP is a pipeline connecting judges and diverse law students. Most students have less insight into the judicial profession. The JCP serves to encourage talented future attorneys to take an interest in clerking and litigation and helps them to become motivated and successful early in their careers. Judges who decide to actively participate in this program help to raise future generations of great lawyers and judges. I am proud of what the 20th JCP has achieved and look forward to another successful and inspiring anniversary.

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By Agnieszka M. Gaertner

Agnieszka M. Gaertner, J.D., LL.M., is a litigation attorney at Lamson Dugan & Murray LLP. She graduated with law degrees from the University of Iowa College of Law and the University of Warsaw and earned LL.M. degrees from the University of Cambridge and China University of Political Science and Law. She can be reached at [email protected].