Reflections of a Participating Student –
Eric Williams: I am a 3L at South Texas College of Law Houston and was a student participant in the 2021 JCP. Like many students who participate in the JCP, I am a first-generation law school student from a racially diverse background. Before law school, I did not have any meaningful exposure to what a judicial clerkship was, and even after starting school, the process of becoming a judicial clerk was still a bit of a mystery.
The JCP provided a tremendous opportunity for students to work closely with federal, state, and administrative judges and lawyers while offering a first-hand glimpse into the working relationship between a judge and their judicial clerk. Additionally, the students in the program were able to elicit some sage advice from the participating judges related to applying for judicial clerkships, the expectations of a judicial clerk, and career paths. Although many of the jurists involved in the program had varying styles and personalities, there was one common theme throughout the program—collaboration. Each judge that spoke during a panel discussion or a small group session stressed the importance of working collaboratively with their clerks to resolve cases. This insight was particularly intriguing to me, as it illuminated the underlying trust that each judge has in their clerks to help them reach the proper ruling in cases. Seemingly, a heavy but rewarding responsibility.
My favorite part of the program was working on the research exercise in my small group. My group consisted of two current state court judges, one former state supreme court justice, and seven law school students from across the country. As part of the research exercise, we received a memo detailing our task for the program; drafting an outline for the Court’s opinion on a specific legal issue. This year’s issue presented was whether a police officer of an Indian tribe lacked authority to detain temporarily and search a non-Indian on a public right-of-way within a reservation based on a potential violation of state or federal law.
At first glance over the issue, I was a bit intimidated. This case presented both questions of general Fourth Amendment principles and Indian law. Living in Texas, Indian law is not an area that a law school student would come across very often. Further, at the time of the program, I had not yet taken any criminal procedure classes, so I had only a basic understanding of the legal workings of the Fourth Amendment. However, I was determined to overcome that intimidation and make sure I got the most out of the program.
Over the next two days, my fellow law students and I conducted research to find and analyze Circuit Court and state court opinions that had addressed the same issue. We also conferred with our group judges to discuss any other relevant information necessary to resolve the case. Finally, as a group, we discussed—and sometimes debated—what we thought the substantive issues in our case facts were. These discussions were fun, as they were thought-provoking and sometimes very spirited. This process seemed to be the essence of what we would experience as judicial clerks; thoroughly researching an issue and other relevant information and then having a thoughtful discussion with your judge on what your conclusion is and why.
As a group, we drafted a comprehensive outline that included relevant case law subdivided by substantive issue, a thorough analysis of the law based on our facts, and recommended rulings for each issue. On the last day of the program, we presented our opinion outline to our group judges and received feedback. Additionally, after receiving feedback on our opinion outline, the judges provided comprehensive feedback and recommendations on each of our resumes.
The JCP was an incredible experience, and I am honored to have participated. I was able to get a real-world look into the experience of a judicial clerk and fostered relationships with multiple judges and other law students that I can carry with me throughout my legal career.