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July 01, 2022 Feature

The JCP’s Success as a Diversity Initiative

By Judge Toni E. Clarke (Ret.)

The ABA Judicial Clerkship Program (JCP) was created in 2001 as a collaboration between the ABA Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity (Commission) and the ABA Judicial Division (JD), with support from LexisNexis. In 2007, the Council for Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Educational Pipeline (Pipeline Council) assumed the responsibilities undertaken by the Commission. The goal was to put judicial clerkships on the radar of hundreds of diverse, underrepresented law students, thereby increasing diversity in the clerkship pipeline and putting the lack of diverse law clerks on the radar of judges and lawyers across the country.

The genesis of the JCP was a controversy that erupted in 1998 when the president of the NAACP and 18 others peacefully crossed a police line at the U.S. Supreme Court in an attempt to deliver resumes of minority law students to then Chief Justice William Rehnquist, bringing attention to the small number of minority lawyers clerking for the U.S. Supreme Court justices in 1998. This attention contributed to the ABA and the National Association of Legal Career Professionals commissioning a comprehensive study of the clerkship situation.

The study found that minority representation in clerkships was generally lower than in law school populations, although this did vary somewhat by ethnic group. The key finding was “this discrepancy did not result from a difference in the success of their applications, but rather a lower application rate of the minority students.” The insight from these findings was that if more minority lawyers were to get judicial clerkships, then more minority law students needed to be encouraged to apply. It would seem that diverse students were not necessarily discouraged from applying for clerkships, but they typically were not encouraged to seek them, not advised that judicial clerkships existed, or not provided guidance on applying for them.

From this study, and with the work of some creative members of the Commission and JD, the JCP was born. The JCP is held annually at the ABA Midyear Meeting, with participation ranging from 60 to 100 law students annually. It brings diverse law students together with judges and lawyers from across the country, allowing students to meet and be exposed to federal, state, and administrative judges, as well as attorneys from across the country, as they learn about clerkships across the legal spectrum. For many in attendance, this is the first time a clerkship has been presented to them as being in the realm of possibilities. Through their participation, law students are afforded unique insights from judges on how to apply for clerkships, what judges consider in the selection process, and what judges’ expectations are from their law clerks.

The law students are selected by the law schools that agree to participate in the JCP. The law schools are provided with the criteria for the JCP. The selection process is solely in the discretion of the law schools, with the understanding that the JCP is an ABA diversity and inclusion initiative.

The JCP is designed to simulate a clerkship experience by replicating the clerk-judge working relationship. Over a two-and-a-half-day period, small groups of students and judges work together to develop an outline of a court opinion deciding a case created based on facts in a closely watched case before the U.S. Supreme Court. In between discussion sessions, the students conduct research via resources and equipment provided by LexisNexis, the corporate sponsor of the program. In between discussion and research sessions, the law students are exposed to panel discussions to learn about clerkships, actual appellate arguments before local appellate courts, resume reviews, and presentations from other ABA entities, Young Lawyers Division in particular, in an effort to introduce and reinforce the reasons for pursuing a judicial clerkship. Outside of the educational components, law students are afforded, in a less structured environment, opportunities to network with all judges, lawyers, and other ABA leaders and dignitaries in attendance at the ABA Midyear Meeting.

I have participated in the JCP as a judge participant and chair or co-chair almost since its inception and have always been impressed with the talent and enthusiasm of the students and the dedication of the ABA staff. I also appreciate the commitment of the judges and lawyers who continue to participate year after year. There have been over 1,500 graduates of the JCP since its inception, many of whom have secured clerkships directly from participating in the JCP or through the connections made during their participation. Some have interned for judges who’ve participated in the JCP. I was fortunate to have a few of them who were in the Washington, D.C., area for the summer months intern for me in Maryland.

In 2015, it was reported that between 2001 and 2011, over 100 JCP graduates obtained clerkships from participating in the JCP. Those numbers do not include the dozens of additional JCP law students who completed internships, externships, and similar programs, or those who obtained law clerk or summer associate positions with law firms.

Over the years, JCP graduates have returned to participate in the JCP as panelists and ABA members, and to attend networking events. They have imparted on the current class the benefits of having participated in the JCP. Many clerked for judges at different levels, have had international and military legal opportunities, and have obtained positions in law firms as a result of having participated in the JCP. By way of example of the support of JCP graduates, in 2020, due to the pandemic, the JCP was virtual. A JCP graduate, and graduate of Penn State Law, who is a captain in the Air Force, participated from her post in Italy. Prior to her military service and after graduation from law school, she was a judicial law clerk for a Delaware judge whom she met at the JCP.

By all accounts, the JCP is one of the most successful ABA diversity initiatives to date. It is a vital contributor to bringing significant attention to the lack of diversity in law clerk positions and increasing diversity and inclusion in the legal profession, judicial clerkships in particular. It is our hope and expectation that the JCP will continue to be a vital program, supporting diversity and inclusion in judicial clerkships and the legal profession.

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By Judge Toni E. Clarke (Ret.)


Judge Toni E. Clarke (Ret.) is a former Judicial Division chair and former of the Judicial Clerkship Program