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January 23, 2023 National Conference of Federal Trial Judges

NCFTJ Chair's Column

By Hon. Willie J. Epps, Jr., Jefferson City, MO

Serving as a law clerk is among the most competitive and prestigious jobs available to a recent law school graduate. But it is far more than merely a job. A clerkship provides a backstage, all-access pass to the judicial process, exposing the clerk to a wide variety of civil and criminal matters. This exposure shows each clerk the issues that lawyers and courts face on a daily basis. A clerkship also gives a law clerk the opportunity to review attorney work product— the motions and advisories that attorneys file with the court—sometimes examples of stellar persuasive writing, and other times, a guide of “what not to do.” t. In turn, a law clerk applies the skills they learned in law school to make meaningful contributions to the judicial decision-making process.

Simply stated, clerking can be invaluable. Employers recruit former judicial clerks for their legal knowledge and their insights regarding judges’ and the court’s perspectives. There is also value gained from the relationships that law clerks build during their clerkships with their co-clerks and judicial officers.

Yet, despite all the benefits of clerking, not enough law students understand that clerking can lead to a lifelong mentor, jump-start a legal career, and be an incredible learning opportunity.

The NCFTJ, established 50 years ago during the 1972 ABA Annual Meeting in San Francisco, has spent the first half of this bar year discussing the benefits of clerking with law students across the country. We have visited students in-person and via Zoom at Southern University Law Center, the University of Missouri School of Law, the University of Kansas School of Law, and Washington University School of Law.

I am grateful to the judges and law clerks who have served on panels titled Why You Should Clerk for a Federal Judge. The September 9th panel at Washington University included U.S. Magistrate Judge Stanley A. Boone (Eastern District of California), U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Elizabeth L. Gunn (District of Columbia), U.S. Magistrate Judge Diana Song Quiroga (Southern District of Texas), U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Elizabeth S. Stong (Eastern District of New York), Kaitlin M. Minkler, my law clerk who moderated, and me.

The September 13th panel at Southern University featured Chief U.S. District Judge Nannette J. Brown (Eastern District of Louisiana), U.S. Magistrate Judge Diana Song Quiroga (Southern District of Texas); law clerks Antonio X. Milton (Chief Judge Brown), Rachel Rein (Judge Song Quiroga), Jenny A. Schorgl (my law clerk) who moderated, and me.

The October 17th panel at the University of Missouri was comprised of Chief U.S. District Judge Beth Phillips (Western District of Missouri), U.S. Magistrate Judge W. Brian Gaddy (Western District of Missouri), Jenny A. Schorgl (my law clerk) who moderated, and me.

The November 1st panel at the University of Kansas included U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Elizabeth S. Stong (Eastern District of New York), U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Elizabeth L. Gunn (District of Columbia); law clerks David N. Tabakin (Judge Gunn), Jenny A. Schorgl and Kaitlin M. Minkler (my law clerks) who moderated, and me.

We will continue our outreach in January at Howard University School of Law, and then, at Loyola University New Orleans College of Law during the ABA Midyear Meeting in New Orleans. In March, our outreach will take us virtually to the University of Nevada-Las Vegas Law School. Stay tuned for more outreach programming and consider volunteering so we can serve even more students!

NCFTJ also looks forward to participating in the 23rd Annual Judicial Clerkship Program (JCP), February 2-4th, presented by the ABA Council for Diversity in the Educational Pipeline and the ABA Judicial Division, during the Midyear Meeting.

JCP introduces law students from a variety of law schools and racial backgrounds to judges and their law clerks from across the country. The program educates the students about the life-long benefits of clerking. The program also encourages judges to consider hiring students that they otherwise may not have considered for a clerkship.

During this three-day program, students spot legal issues, conduct legal research, draft legal memoranda, and defend their opinions to their colleagues and the judges. Through the years, I have seen courageous law students argue their positions before judges serving on courts ranging from the Indiana Supreme Court and U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit to the Alameda Superior Court and U.S. Bankruptcy Court. It is my understanding that more than 1,100 diverse law students have participated in JCP, the earliest participants now midcareer lawyers, and one now a federal judge.

Wishing you safe travels to New Orleans.

Willie J. Epps, Jr, Jefferson City, MO

Willie J. Epps, Jr, Jefferson City, MO

2022-2023 Chair, National Conference of Federal Trial Judges

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