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April 23, 2024 Judicial Division

Judicial Division Guides Law Clerk Ethics

Marla Greenstein, Anchorage, AK

At this Midyear Meeting’s Judicial Clerkship Program, Justice Linda Bell presented a brief introduction to the various ethical guidelines that will govern these future law clerks. Emphasizing that each court and judge will have differing ethical expectations of law clerks, the overarching message was to be aware of the potential issues and always ask if an issue appears. Noting that the ABA Model Code of Judicial Conduct imposes a duty on the judge to require court staff, including law clerks, to act in a manner consistent with the judge’s obligations under the Code, Justice Bell emphasized the role of the law clerk as an extension of the judge in many ways.

Looking to a couple of notorious egregious ethical lapses by law clerks, she also noted that at times judges have had ethical lapses and have drawn law clerks into those. The “five Cs” needed to maintain ethical standards provide a good working framework: confidentiality, conflicts of interest, caution, community awareness, and career scope. In fulfilling their diverse responsibilities law clerks will be expected to maintain loyalty, discretion, dedication, neutrality, cooperation with co-workers, and overall professionalism.

The follow-up question and answer period brought thoughtful inquiries from the attendees. One student attending noted that she is very much an advocate and politically active and questioned her ability to put aside those activities where she finds meaning and purpose, even for the one or two years required during a clerkship.

While the presentation was necessarily brief, all agreed that it prompted thought and introspection by the students attending and the judges as well.

The Judicial Division has an ongoing effort to develop a Code of Conduct for Law Clerks. That committee is working diligently to attempt to carve out provisions and standards that could be adapted by courts that employ law clerks. The general areas will track those set out in the Code of Judicial Conduct but formulated in a way that makes sense for the limited role of a law clerk. General areas that will be addressed include: Adjudicatory Duties, Confidentiality, Conflicts of Interest, and Outside Activities.

Marla Greenstein

Co-Chair JD Ethics and Professionalism Committee

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