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July 01, 2022 Feature

My Experience in the Judicial Clerkship Program

By Jose Gonzalez

To fully understand the extent to which the ABA Judicial Clerkship Program (JCP) benefited me requires a little background information on me. My father, the youngest of five siblings, was the first in his family to be born in the United States. My mother was raised in rural Arkansas. Presented with suboptimal prospects to improve their opportunities after high school, my parents each decided to join the military, where they would meet years later. My mother instilled in me a commitment to public service, and she did her best to provide us with the opportunities not afforded to her. Even as a youth, I thought the legal profession would be a great avenue for me to provide my public service; I just did not really understand what that meant.

What my youth and young adult life did not provide me, however, was any substantive exposure or insight into the legal field. At the time I applied to law school, I can remember having previously met only two attorneys—my father’s divorce attorney and my mother’s divorce attorney. Despite my growing interest in the legal field as a conduit for me to provide the public service I find so important, the legal world remained a mystery to me—a mysterious world to which it appeared I did not have access.

Nevertheless, with the encouragement of my wonderful wife, I blindly applied to law school. I was elated upon acceptance, but my excitement quickly gained a tinge of anxiety. It took no longer than the first day of orientation for me to realize that I was behind the proverbial eight ball when it came to understanding how the legal world operated. It seemed all the other students had a grandfather, aunt, or family friend who was an attorney. Through these connections, the other students seemed to have gained exposure to the legal profession that I lacked.

The most relevant example here would be judicial clerkships. Before law school, I had never heard of judicial clerkships, but other students already knew of their importance. I quickly learned about judicial clerkships and their practical benefits. I was confident, however, that judicial clerkships were unavailable to me. Quite frankly, I did not think I had the “right connections” to enter the realm of judicial clerking even if I were academically qualified. It did not help that the pool of law clerks I would meet, through law school clerkship panels and various student networking functions, lacked an abundance of diversity. I could not envision myself in their ranks.

Fast forward to me as a 2L on the day my law school informed me of the Judicial Clerkship Program. I was intrigued by the JCP’s goal of introducing diverse law students to judges for the purpose of discussing judicial clerkships. The JCP appeared to have the tools needed to overcome some of the hurdles I perceived between me and clerking—mainly the access to hands-on information. The JCP presented an opportunity to speak with persons in the judicial world regarding the practical nature of judicial clerkships. I was lucky that my law school was very supportive of my attending the JCP.

The 2014 Judicial Clerkship Program in Chicago surpassed my expectations. Upon arriving at the JCP, I was immediately provided with opportunities such as panel discussions and small group meetings during which I received specific information from various judges regarding the day-to-day expectations of judicial clerks. I also learned the skills and characteristics these judges found important when they were hiring clerks. I was able to discuss these topics in a small group setting with several judges from across the country. During these meetings is when I first met the judge for whom I would clerk after graduating law school.

Being able to discuss clerkships with several judges to learn how each judge differently utilized their law clerks provided me with a better picture of what judicial clerking actually entails. Sitting down in a small group setting with judges to discuss pertinent legal topics, as if we were discussing a motion in chambers, provided me with valuable insights into the thought process of the judiciary and a peek behind the proverbial curtain. I learned that I could be a part of the process.

As soon as I returned from the JCP, I started the process of seeking a judicial clerkship position. Through my participation in the JCP, I learned the importance of judicial clerkships, and I learned that I could be a part of the judicial process even if I did not see myself readily represented in the judicial system.

I encourage judges to participate in the JCP as a means to demonstrate to law students that the judiciary finds diversity to be a crucial part of a well-rounded judiciary. I also encourage any law student to attend the JCP if the opportunity arises.

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By Jose Gonzalez

Jose Gonzalez, J.D., is a career law clerk for the federal district court and a graduate of the Charleston School of Law.